"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were astounded and said, "Who can be saved?" Jesus said, "For people it's impossible. For God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:24-26
A camel squeezing through the eye of a needle is pure absurdity, something more befitting of Monty Python than Holy Scripture. How do we explain this?
Some say the Eye of the Needle was a low and narrow gate into Jerusalem, generally avoided by well-to-do camel-owners. To get through, you had to unload your camel and make it crawl.
Others say "camel," kamilos in Greek, was a second century typo on the word kamelos, "rope." Getting a rope through a needle's eye is less challenging than dragging a camel, but still tough. In either case the message is the same: the kingdom is for the small, the humble, those with miniscule egos and little or no baggage. The richer we are, the tighter the squeeze into God's tiny house of heaven.
Disciples (then and now) logically ask, "who then can be saved" because most everyone (then and now) treats wealth as a blessing rather than a curse. At that point, Jesus has us right where he wants us to deliver the gospel: "For people it's impossible, but for God all things are possible."
In other words: It's not possible to buy or earn our way into the kingdom or to shrink our ego by ourselves. Only grace can do that. Only grace can knock us off our high horse/camel and make us tiny enough for God. That's the good news.
Tiny God, today let me take a note from the hypothetical camel and fall on my knees, literally or figuratively, as a first step in becoming smaller and more like you.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.