“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)
What does this mean? So many people over the years have tried to put this particular quote in some sort of context.
Some tell us that the “Eye of the needle” referred to a small gate into the city of Jerusalem through which a camel could not pass unless it stooped and first had all its baggage first removed. Aha! Jesus was telling us, like some new age guru, that we need to get rid of our baggage to enter heaven. I get it, that’s cool. Baggage bad.
Rumor has it that after dark, when the main gates were shut, travelers or merchants would have to use this small gate, through which the camel could only enter unencumbered and crawling on its knees! Aha again! Very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Only the penitent camel shall pass. Get rid of your baggage and repent. That is what Jesus was saying right?
Alternatively, some have proposed that the passage is mistranslating the Greek word kamilos (‘camel’) should really be kamêlos, meaning ‘cable, rope.’ Ah a rope through a needle. Still tough for sure, but much better than a camel no?
Still other have suggested that the needle in question was a 6 inch carpet needle and the rope was made of camel hair. Well now we are getting somewhere. A rope through a six inch needle? I got this yo!
It is truly amazing the mental hoops we jump through in order not to take Jesus at his word. Jesus could not possibly have meant what he was saying, right? As Catholics we rightly point out to our protestant brethren how Jesus meant what he said about eating his flesh. We point out that this teaching was too hard for many and they walked away from Jesus. Jesus didn’t run after them and try to convince them all that he was speaking symbolically. No, he meant what he said. So much so that he turned to his disciples and asked if they would abandon him too, to which Peter responded “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
So while many Catholics take Jesus’ word at face value when it comes to the Eucharist, we keep looking for a loophole for the eye of the needle. Truth is, we like our stuff. Sure we have some stuff but other people have more stuff. Jesus must have been referring to them, right?
We don’t want to think that maybe we are like that young man who asked Jesus the question and walked away sad. So we look for loopholes in new-agey metaphors or giant needles. But, as usual, the Apostles make that impossible. They responded just as incredulously to Jesus as we would. “When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”
If Jesus were referring to a small gate in Jerusalem or giant needle with small ropes, why would the Apostles have been astonished blurting out “Then who can be saved?” There is only one reason, Jesus meant what he said and said what he meant.
So now what? Do we turn away from Jesus in the same way that that young man did or do we respond as Peter did when faced with another hard teaching, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
As for me, I haven’t made my decision yet so I am holding onto my stuff a bit longer – just in case. You never know when you might come upon a good loophole.