It’d be Easier for a Camel…

They might be thin, but could one of these Arabian camels go through the eye of a needle? I know, unless you could get your hands on a shrink ray, or a gargantuan needle it seems impossible. That’s Jesus’ point in the following story: “What’s impossible with man is possible with God.”

Camels and Needles;
The Rich and the Kingdom of God 
LUKE 18:18-30

18A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

19"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.'"

21 "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, 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."

26Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"

27Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God."

28Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"

29"Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."

Okeydokey, go back to the top and reread Jesus’ conversation with the wealthy young man niiiice and slowwwly. As it’s also covered in the Synoptic gospels of Matthew and Mark, I’m sure you’ll agree that this first-century story is still very relevant for us today.

The placement of this story following that of The Little Children and Jesus (Luke 18:15-17) is essential for a good exegesis. Jesus had just explained the kind of person we must be to be accepted into the kingdom of God, like children.

We don’t need to go back in time or live immaturely, but we must have childlike faith in him. Jesus requires each of us to live lives of humility, faith and trust.

In Matthew 19:20, the focal figure of this story is described as a “young man”, and all three synoptic gospels detail that this young man was rich (Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22; Luke 18:23).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is rich-young-ruler.jpg

Put yourself in the shoes of this rich young ruler; what do you value most in your life? Is it your Family? Your career? House? Car? Maybe your hobbies or sports team? If Jesus looked you in the eye and asked you to leave it all behind and follow him, could you do it without question?

As we spend some time working through this passage, I pray that we can come to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ tutorial for his first followers as well as its applications and implications for us today.

18A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke 18:18

We’re immediately informed that this individual wasn’t a blacksmith, carpenter, fisherman or mason. He was a ruler of some sort; a man of standing, of authority. By giving Jesus the title of “good teacher”, the rich young ruler had obviously heard about Jesus’ deeds and thought highly of him.

The rich young ruler’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” typifies the understanding of eternal life in the Old Covenant (the specific laws given to the chosen people of Israel in the Old Testament).

“What must I do…?” This man wanted to know what rituals and ceremonies he needed to perform for himself, or the gifts required of him to guarantee his acceptance into heaven. Jesus quickly puts him back into place…    

19"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.'"
Luke 18:19-20

The adjective “good” comes from the Old English “gōd” (said with a long ‘o’, like the German ‘ö’). This word describes something of right or desirable quality, beneficial, efficient, excellent, favourable, pious, or virtuous.

As humans, we’ve been corrupted by evil; thus, none of us can indeed be regarded as good. Jesus’ question and answer baits the rich young ruler to make a logical conclusion; If no one is good except God, Jesus couldn’t be called good unless he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

We read that this encounter wasn’t the proper time for a public revelation of Jesus’ divine authority and his unity with God. Later that year, Jesus would declare, 30“…I and the Father are one”, he also preformed greater miracles including the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

21 "All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.
Luke 18:21

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but this rich young ruler was either a liar or suffered from a severe case of self-deception. With the single exception of Jesus, no one has kept all of God’s statutes. This demonstrates the necessity of the grace offered to us through the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Luke 18:22

Jesus’ correction and instructions to the rich young ruler illustrates that despite his wealth, he wasn’t showing love to his neighbours and those less fortunate than himself (Leviticus 19:18).     

Jesus knew the strengths and weaknesses of the rich young ruler. It’s true, as Christians, living a Christ-like life will require sacrifice. When we introduce ourselves, Jesus asks us to put him first: “I’m a Christian”, or “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ”.

If we’re not willing to give up our earthly titles, works or material wealth, we don’t faithfully and obediently believe in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, 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."
Luke 18:23-25

The description of being “very sad” illustrates where the heart and mind of the rich young ruler lay; of what he identified as most valuable. When we compare his values with the beliefs (or lack thereof) of today’s richest men, nothing’s changed.

Between the Synoptic gospels, there are some differences in the Greek translations. The word for ‘needle’ in Matthew and Mark is a ‘rafic‘ (ιραφις̀ι), whereas Luke uses the term ‘belone‘ (ιβελονὴι). Both terms are synonyms for needles used in sewing, but as Luke was a physician, ‘belone‘ is more likely to refer to a needle used by a surgeon, rather than a seamstress.

The analogy about the camel and the needle has received numerous archaeological, literal, metaphorical and misinterpretations from modern “sages,” academics and other parties. One has said,

“if Jesus is refer[r]ing to a sewing needle[,] th[e]n there will be no rich people in heaven. I know in my heart that this is no[t] true.”

Notes and Queries: “Eye of the Needle”
The Guardian

I advise this individual to slow down a little and reread verses 24 and 27,

24“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”…27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Luke 18:24, 27

Research by Lisa Miller, a journalist from the New York Magazine, and from students at the University of California have shown that it’s rare for wealthy people to show genuine empathy, humility or love towards their neighbours. Such research has found that the higher people are on the socioeconomic ladder, the more they are dehumanized.

26Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?" 27Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God."
Luke 18:26-27  

Jesus’ answer is short and sweet; no one can be admitted into the kingdom of God by their own merit, only by the grace (unmerited favour) and will of God.

28Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"
Luke 18:28

Peter’s response in the NIV translation makes me smile. Unlike the NASB’s use of “Behold”, the KJV’s use of “Lo”, and the HCSB’s “Look”, the NIV uses an exclamation mark to demonstrate the passion behind Peter’s response.

We see in Matthew 8:14–17, Mark 1:29–31 and Luke 4:38 that Peter had a mother-in-law; thereby, he’d left his wife at home to join Jesus. Furthermore, in Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth, we see that he wasn’t the only one,  

4Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? [Peter].

1 Corinthians 9:4-5

Jesus appreciates Peter’s reaction and is quick to reassure him. Peter wanted to know what would happen to the disciples who’d, like himself, faithfully responded to Jesus’ call of “follow me” and were willing to leave everything behind.

29"Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."

Notice that in his reply, Jesus has personified the kingdom of God. He isn’t referring to a grand castle, crowns or riches, but his own divine family. Jesus was telling his disciples, including us, that if we accept his call to follow, we’ll be repaid with eternal life in the age to come (see Matthew 19:28).     

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