Eye of the Needle

In today’s gospel we have the famous expression: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” It is a continuation of the encounter with the rich young man of yesterday’s gospel.   In other form, the expression also appears in the Jewish Talmud and in Qur’an 7:40: “Indeed, those who deny Our verses and are arrogant toward them – the gates of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle.”

In the Christian context it seems to bluntly say that it is flat-out impossible for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God. Lots of commentaries say that The “Eye of the Needle” was a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. It was intentionally narrow and low so that travelers could only enter one-by-one and any beast of burden (e.g. the camel) would have to be either lightly loaded or completely unloaded. Hence: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor.” So – there was chance for rich people after all!

The interpretation has been put forth since at least the 15th century and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no archeological or historically reliable evidence for the existence of such a gate. One has to be suspect of the later rising of the explanation – somehow tamping down and tempering Jesus’ words.

Cyril of Alexandria claimed that “camel” is a Greek misspelling and that kamêlos (camel) was written in place of kamilos, meaning “rope” or “cable”. More recently, George Lamsa, in his 1933 translation of the Bible into English from the Syriac, claimed the same based on the Syriac.

Camel, rope, cable – still pretty impossible. But then it is a metaphor. Right? I would suggest we are right back to yesterday’s point: do you possess wisdom about riches and their place in your journey to God?

Something to think about for this week.

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