23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, 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 who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Have you heard about the gate in the ancient wall of Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye? A camel could only pass if all its burden was removed. It is a nice little factotum, but it is false. There never was a gate like that. It is the fabrication of some 19th century reader of the Bible who wanted to make sense of these words by Jesus. The fact is, Jesus is being absurd. A camel was just about the largest animal any of his audience would ever see. A needle’s eye is small enough hold a piece of thread. How can one ever get a camel through such a thing? Jesus wants you to imagine that absurd task.
That is exactly the point. It is impossible, at least for me it is, and for you too. These words should give us pause. Jesus says that wealthy people are like that camel and the needle’s eye is the passage to heaven itself. Does our wealth come between us and God’s favor? It certainly can. Wealth can easily be the thing we fear, love, and trust above all things. It can become our idol. In fact, Jesus seems to be saying that we cannot avoid it. Sin has programmed us trust the wrong things. Like camels looking through a needle’s eye, we are hopeless. But Jesus does not leave us without hope. What is impossible for you and me, is quite possible for God. He should know. He is God. But I think too often we have heard these words and forgotten what else Jesus says here. God does a great deal of work on each of us to bring us to heaven’s bliss. I foolishly imagine that he will bring me and my comfortable life to heaven as is. I admit I need a little cosmetic work on the edges of my life, shed a few pounds, fix my nearsightedness, etc., but I think that surely God has Lutherans like me in mind when he does the urban planning for the City of God. Really? Luther, who may have read it in an early Christian named Bonaventura, once said something to this effect: God creates from nothing and until I am nothing, God makes nothing of me. The meaning here is twofold: first God reduces me to nothing, but then, once I am stripped of everything, he creates as he first created. God does indeed bring camels through needle’s eye, and he brings you and me to His eternal kingdom. He does so through the cross and the grave. Paul tells us that only one thing of this life comes with us to heaven, and that is love. We all must pass through that narrow passage. God will bring us through by reducing us to nothing, stripping away all our sinful self to reveal the new man or woman who is already on that other side.