Paul told the Corinthians to consider their calling; to look around and see who answered the call to follow Christ. Well, not many wise according the flesh; not many mighty and not many noble; have shown up and swelled the ranks of the church. We could add here that not many rich people have shown up either. This still rings true, doesn’t it? And why is that? If the world thinks that believing in God is foolish and you have a reasonably high IQ, you might not want to let go of your wise status. You kind of have to let go of your ability to figure life out; to unravel the complexities of existence. You have to trust God knows what he is talking about. And if you are a strong person, whether that is physical or mental strength, it just may be difficult to let go of any concept of being able to power through whatever this life throws your way. And isn’t it tempting to think that money can accomplish whatever you need it to accomplish. Why would I need to trust in God if I have my own wisdom; my own strength; my own wealth. I would be more tempted to trust in what I already have than to let go and trust in Yahweh.
Luke 18:24-27 occurs as we see the dejected rich ruler walking away. He refused to let go of his possession; to trust God and love people. Jesus looks at his retreating form and says, “how difficult it is for those who have abundance to enter into the kingdom of God.” Can you hear the sadness in his voice? Listen closely. I’m convinced its there. Mark tells us in his account that Jesus felt a love for this man. He wanted him to choose wisely. But alas, he walked away from receiving treasure in heaven as he grasped tightly to his earthly abundance.
To emphasize his point, Jesus told his disciples that it would be easier for a camel to enter into the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Whoever thinks Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humor is not paying attention. Try to imagine a camel being stuffed into the eye of a needle. Some time ago it was somewhat popular to apply this saying to a narrow gate entering into Jerusalem; difficult but doable. In Jesus’ day, we have no record of any gate being called the eye of the needle. And Jesus is not opposed to using hyperbole to make his point. After all, in 6:41-42 he talked about a house beam being in a person’s eye. Later rabbinical sources speak of an elephant going through the eye of a needle. Crazy hyperbolizing rabbis. The point Jesus is making is not that it is difficult. He is saying it is impossible. You cannot stuff a camel into the eye of a needle. You cannot stuff a person who relies on his wealth into the kingdom of God.
The people listening to this serendipitous teaching are shaken. If the wealthy cannot enter, then who can? Their whole lives they have been taught; they have believed; that if a person is wealthy, he is blessed by God. Why would it be impossible for someone who is so obviously favored by God to enter into the kingdom of God. I mean, they should already be there. Not to mention, that personal experience has taught them that the wealthy are able to do so much more than they are. Justice bends to their wealth; trouble melts away; the priests show deference; the better deals leap into their laps. Again, if they are not able to enter, then who can?
The things that are impossible with people are possible with God. And here we see the crux of the issue. Before we will let God’s ability to sweep us into the kingdom, we must acknowledge we cannot sweep ourselves into the kingdom. That is going to be harder for people who seem to waltz through life with very little worries. A long history of relying on abundance, strength, or wisdom to navigate life is hard to let go of. But without that letting go, there cannot be an entering into. The rich ruler was a camel who took one look at the eye of the needle and said, “My wealth cannot get me through that, so I will not be going through, thank you very much.”
This word is not just for the people with abundance. Anyone who relies on anything other than God cannot enter into the kingdom. Your intelligence will not get you through. Your might cannot shove you through. Your nobility means nothing here. The eye of the needle is exactly where you must enter into. You cannot do it. You are lacking the ability. Take a look at the eye of the needle. This is not a metaphysical bending of a spoon. This is about letting go of your abundance or whatever it is that you have been trusting in. This is about trusting in God. It is too difficult for you. But nothing is too difficult for God. Thank God.