We humans are an interesting lot. We like to debate and discuss the meaning of so many things. We argue over the meaning of the words Jesus said. Today’s gospel is no different. Jesus told his disciples “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.” The saying is so striking that people have wondered what it really means. Listen for a moment to the different interpretations of this single verse when you do a simple internet search.
Some have said that there is an eye of the needle gate in Jerusalem. These folks suggest that when the gates of the city were closed at night, they would leave open the eye of the needle gate. It was much smaller than others. If someone brought a heavily loaded camel to the eye of the needle gate, they would have to unload all of the goods from the camel and the camel would have to get on its knees and crawl through the gate. The conclusion is that wealthy people must unload their possessions and humble themselves before God in order to get into heaven.
Others have said there is no such gate. Rather, there is a problem with translation. There are two words in Greek that are very similar. One is the word kamilon which is translated as rope. The other word is kamelon which is translated as camel. The argument goes that Jesus said it is harder for a rope to go through the eye of a needle. Perhaps, then we could find a really large needle or a really small rope and make it work. With my eyesight, I struggle to get any thread through a needle.
Still others have said that these other two interpretations are wrong. The Persians had a saying before the Jewish people that used an elephant as the example of an animal trying to get through the eye of a needle. So, camel is the best interpretations and Jesus wanted us to know how hard it is to get to heaven.
I don’t consider myself a biblical scholar nor am I an expert in languages. I am just going to let these different interpretations of the eye of the needle verse stick with you and let you decide which is correct. What all of these interpretations have in common is the seriousness of Jesus statement.
The young man told Jesus that he followed all of the commandments. Jesus loved the young man and appreciated his dedication to the commandments. I think Jesus knew that the young man was troubled despite his faithfulness. There was something that kept him from God. This man’s problem wasn’t just the possessions that he had. It was the way he treated them. Many people in Jesus’s time thought that wealth meant you could have everything you wanted and needed. It was an accepted attitude. The young man lacked a state of being, or perhaps a way of being. His possessions ruled him when he should have been focused on God instead. But Jesus told us that wealth isn’t what matters. Jesus wanted the man to live with God’s will in his heart and mind. Without a relationship to God, we are lost.
There was a time when people would sell all of their possessions and join a monastery or go to a convent. I don’t think Jesus wants all of us to go into a monastery. After all, we are called to bring God’s kingdom to earth. If we all lived in a monastery, we wouldn’t spend much time with other people and wouldn’t usually work to change the world. We must look into our own lives and see if there is something that is getting in the way of our relationship with God. It isn’t enough simply to be a good person and to follow the rules. Jesus expects us to commit our lives to him and to God the Father. For some it is our possessions that keep us from God but for others it is something else.
When we listen to the words from Amos today, it sounds as if God will send a great calamity to the people of Israel. Amos warned the people to repent. The words are quite simple. “Seek the Lord and you shall live” Amos tells us. We should turn to the Lord for all of our wishes, not just because we are afraid of some terrible outcome if we don’t.
In the Psalm we say, “I will praise the Lord with everything that I have”. Can we just turn our hearts to God and let everything else work the way it should? If we offer praise to God isn’t it likely that we allow God to lead us? Won’t our possessions become less important when we are able to praise God?
Another way to think about the dilemma the man faced is to understand that we are all called to use the gifts we have in service to the Lord. Last week’s lessons were about how we should be stewards of God’s creation. We are expected to care for the earth and to care for the animals of the world and to care for our pets. This week, our call is to be stewards of our gifts.
I am thankful for the willingness of Jeff Lokensgard to share his thoughts about stewardship. You will hear two more presentations from parishioners about their commitment to stewardship. Each will share their own perspective about how they use their gifts to glorify God. Tomorrow, we will create the pledge cards for everyone that we know is a regular attendee of this church. I do this always remembering how thankful I am for the people who give their time to make this church a special place and how thankful I am for the people who contribute to this place. Our goal is to join together in community to seek to understand God’s word and to live into our relationship with God. We wish to be a welcoming community where God’s spirit can be found. We can only do that if you help us. I ask you to prayerfully consider your response when you receive your pledge. Our church lives right on the edge of having enough income to pay for the expenses we incur each year. How will you respond to God’s call to be a steward? This year, we have chosen the theme transforming generosity. The idea is that when we give away some of what we have, when we help God’s kingdom and help others then we will be transformed, changed by the understanding that we are doing just what Jesus called us to do.
I hope that you respond to the words of Jesus not just out of a sense of responsibility or guilt but rather out of a sense of joy and thanksgiving. You see, if your response comes from the perspective that you must earn your way into heaven by giving away money, you have missed the wonder found in the words of Jesus. It is all about the joy we have in God’s gifts that we decide to give some of it back.
I spent a lot of time on that eye of the needle verse so as I finish I want you to know that the most important words of today are found in the story after the young man leaves the presence of Jesus. For Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” God’s actions are much more important than our actions. And God can make a difference in our lives. We just need to open our hearts so that God can work in our lives. I like the words we find in our collect for today. We ask the Lord to send us grace, grace that leads us and grace that follows us so that we can do God’s work in the world.
May you feel God’s grace in such a way that all you care to do is praise God. May you feel God’s grace so that you are not distracted by earthly things but always pay attention to God’s will for you. May you feel God’s grace so that you have strength enough to follow God’s wishes for you. Amen.
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