Eye Of The Needle
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Good Shepherd Episcopal
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” 21 And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,[b] “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”
Eye of the needle by Vladimir Kush, 2014
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is the last thing you are willing to do.
Such is the case, when we consider all of the wisdom and advice handed down over the ages. How often have we heard, yet walked away? Is it a case of stubbornness or are we just hard of hearing? Or, is it because we are unwilling to lose control? Often, do we wonder what would have happened “if only?” “If only, I had followed that advice.” Our understanding of life, therefore, is about the choices we make based on who or what we choose to follow. “It is better to have loved and lost, then not to have loved at all,” said Lord Tennyson. “Lost time is never found again,” said Ben Franklin. “Believe nothing you see and half of what you hear,” said Twain. These are bits of advice passed down over the last two centuries. They are subjective truths, pithily written, in order that the listener can join in agreement. They are what we call an aphorism.
There is another that goes further back in time, about twenty-five centuries ago, in the heart of Palestine and Babylon. It was an old proverb. From the Jewish Talmud and midrash on King Solomon’s Song of Songs, we heard it today. “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Imagine if you will Jesus’ audience. There is a gathering of people who are earnest in seeing whether or not he has something of value for them to hear. For so long, they have been misled. Their countenance had fallen in leaders who made promises that were not fulfilled. They needed something or someone who they could love, for much had been lost. They felt that many opportunities were lost in time and now they had a hard time believing all they had seen and half of what they heard.
Out of this audience is one young rich man. He felt he was ready for discipleship believing in this man Jesus. Jesus was a good man, so he thought. Good by tradition meant Jesus followed all the rules. Good meant he was prosperous in some kind of way. For Jesus it wasn’t material wealth, but rather in his growing population, of those drawn in by his wisdom. The rich young man heard Jesus refer to the kingdom of heaven. It sounded good and he knew it was a good investment but with all his riches was he willing to pay the cost? But Jesus ‘lowers the boom’ on the rich young man telling him he must give away all that he owned. Is Jesus saying that having money is bad? No, but he does imply that for this man, his wealth was an impediment for him because he depended on it more than God.
From the Jewish Talmud, written five hundred years earlier we hear that odd saying of the camel and the needle. He draws upon the midrash of the Song of Solomon, much like he chose to quote from the Psalms or Isaiah. Jesus was not only knowledgeable of scripture he was the master of knowing people. He knew what the crowd was thinking. He knew what brought them there and he knew how to best use common illustrations to relate and help them through life’s difficulties. Perhaps he looked over to the side of the street, watching a person stringing up a carpet. Using camel hair, he would have noticed their frustration in taking the course spool and trying to thread it through the big, six-inch wooden needle, yet they were committed to keep working. Maybe the rich man owned the store that made the rugs, and either he or an employee of his went through this.
Around the 9th century there was a myth about a gate in the wall of Jerusalem. It was shaped much like our gothic entrances today and it was said that by its shape it was called the Eye of the Needle. If it were true, perhaps Jesus remembered what it was like to see a caravan of camels and merchants come to a slow halt before entering the narrow gate that led into Jerusalem. One by one they had to stop to take off the heavy loads. The camels ducked down low in order to go through the entrance. It was a slow line to be in, and frustrating it was to come to the entrance and be told you had to take everything off before you entered.
We don’t always agree with the terms and conditions of the cost of discipleship. The terms of living a holy life. There is always something of frustration or something of weight that every Christian must endure. God knows how to hit us where it really hurts because he wants to ween us off our dependencies that lead us away from him. What if he said you had to give up chocolate before you could enter the kingdom of heaven? What if he said you had to stop playing golf or tennis? What if he said no more watching football or using your computer or cell phone? What if he said you can’t look at your financials but once a year? We don’t want to go there. If we believe the rich young man leaves discouraged, our hope is that Jesus, by his Holy Spirit continued to walk with him. It may have taken another encounter, or another, or yet even another, before the young man realized what was his will and what was God’s will.
We think the gate we choose for ourselves is wider but it’s not. I’ll leave you with another illustration to help you see this. Take out your customary and look on the front cover. What type of art work do you see? It is our shield. Notice its shape. It’s the same as used by other Episcopal parishes and the diocese. Inside of ours is the Good Shepherd and he is there to receive. If you were to draw a vertical line underneath it, it represents you and I on our journey, on the straight and narrow path. Together this takes on the shape of a needle, and we are the thread that passes through. This emblem is symbolic for it represents the empty tomb. In order for us to go through the eye of the needle, we must go through the life and death of Christ, with our frustrations and our sacrifices. This gate that Jesus stands before, is not narrow. You have to unpack some things. You have to trust. Do not walk away from him, but rather through him; as if you were passing through the eye of a needle.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Mark 10:17-31