Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
I moved this week to a very lovely but much smaller home. I gave away a good bit of furniture before I left, replaced some items with similar things with a smaller footprint, put the rest in the moving van and set out. Finally, by the end of day 4 in the new place, I could walk from one end of the house to the other without having to move furniture to accomplish the feat. While things still have to be moved to sit down in most chairs, things are a bit more together each day. There are a number of items out by the road in front of the house—free to passersby. More is waiting to go out when those things disappear.
I began the journey hoping that the biblical analogy for my move would be the loaves and fishes miracle of Jesus, where a small amount of something (in this case, space) would miraculously become much more. Instead, however, I have found that Jesus’ teaching about the camel trying to slide through the eye of a needle is more apt. Simply put, I have too much stuff.
While in Israel we stopped in the home of a shopkeeper in Bethany—one of the towns now walled off in the Palestinian territory. Six people lived in two rooms. Not far from my lovely new Boston office, people live in boxes outdoors. And I complain that my house is too small. There is no reason that a single woman shouldn’t be able to fit in 1100 sq. ft. of house. When you get right down to it, it is almost embarrassing that all this space is devoted to only one person.
I’ve watched lots of people get hung up on trying to figure out where Jesus’ analogy about the camel and needle comes from. It is often taught that there is a small gate in Jerusalem called the needle’s eye and that camels laden with goods had to get rid of their loads in order to fit through the gate. Nice image, but it has no basis in fact. Others point out that in Aramaic, the word for camel and the word for rope are the same, probably because rope was made from camel’s hair. They say Jesus’ was really talking about threading a rope through a needle made for thread. I think Jesus’ just liked hyperbole and was having fun with images.
But in the end the message is the same. When our possessions increase, we lose perspective. When I have a lot of stuff, I begin to think that the world owes me a place to keep that stuff. My focus shifts to protecting the stuff—a shed to protect stuff from the weather, alarms to protect stuff from thieves, regular maintenance costs to protect stuff from decay—it goes on forever. And while I’m focused on protecting and displaying my stuff, the people living in boxes under bridges go to bed hungry and the six people in that Bethany home pull out mats for the floor and turn their living room/dining room into their bedroom.
Once Jesus began his ministry, he didn’t have a home. He slept at the homes of friends or out under the stars. “Foxes have holes,” he said, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20) He didn’t have the distractions of possessions and was able to keep his focus on God. The more we have, the more preoccupied we become with things other than the Kingdom of God. And maybe that’s why it’s so hard for the rich to enter—not because God wants to keep them out, but because they have lost sight of where it is.
Free me, Lord, from my stuff and help me to turn my eyes toward you. Amen.
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