Friday, January 13, 2017

Jesus Offers Little Hope For Us Dromedaries

A daunting prospect, for sure

"Again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."    
Matthew 19:24

In order to become a member of the God Movement the Bible tells us we need a miraculous transformation (a new birth), experience a radical life change (repentance) and take part in a public commissioning rite (baptism). But the church has come to embrace a growing number of camel-like members through a different and equally miraculous-sounding means, being threaded through the eye of a needle.

Christians have long dismissed Jesus' words as hyperbole when he declares that it's easier for a grown camel to get through a needle's eye than to have us rich people enter the heaven-ruled Kingdom of God. We well-off American believers have come to not only welcome the wealthy, but actually woo them, and have ourselves become among the richest people on earth.

I do believe that Jesus is referring to consumer wealth here rather than capital investments (in wealth-producing land, factories or other enterprises), a point I make in an earlier blog. But in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus' predecessor John the Baptist, he clearly denounces any consumer-based way of life, in which we hoard more and more personal possessions, as unacceptable. Jesus makes it clear that his followers can't be in alliance with both God and Mammon.

What the church has done is to create needles so huge that their "eyes" are big enough to drive fully equipped RV's and loaded semis right through them. Of course, such needles are of little use for sewing or mending things, but at least they would appear to meet Jesus's requirements for entrance.

But Jesus' way is to have our surplus clothes, bank accounts and vehicles all melted down to the kind of fine thread used for what needles are intended for, to sew or mend things.

A more recent interpretation of Jesus' statement is to say he was really referring to a very narrow passage outside a city wall (the needle) that led to a small well-guarded gate (the eye). This pedestrian gate, we are told, was one just large enough for a person to get through, but one that a camel, stripped of its load, might also manage to squeeze through by the hardest. But no first century writer is known to have interpreted Jesus' metaphor that way, even though it actually makes a similar point.

Meanwhile, if we aspire to be radically conservative Christians, a people who treasure, preserve and pass on Jesus' way of new birth and new life, we may have some serious rethinking to do. Are we willing, on the basis of seeing everything through an entirely new lens, to do a complete about face and begin to move in a St. Francis, Mother Theresa and Christ-like direction, or will we continue loading more and more on the backs of our camel caravans and keep moving in the John D. Rockefeller and Donald J. Trump direction?

Meanwhile, should be be asking which route might result in the greatest personal benefit?
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