Reflections by Jerry Webber

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Needle Eyes on the Way to the Kingdom

Mark 10:23 - 27

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said, "With human beings this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

This passage causes concern and a certain nervousness among readers. I've heard persons come to all sorts of interpretations for "eye of a needle" in order to escape its difficulty, things like making the "eye of a needle" a gated opening in an ancient walled city. Even without making the "eye of a needle" some large portal in a city wall, the passage raises concerns. Other folks write off the passage as applying only to the "rich," and most of us -- no matter how much or how little we have -- don't count ourselves as "rich."

The traditional reading of this passage equates the "kingdom of God" with "heaven"; thus, most people think the passage says something like, "It is hard for the rich to enter heaven."

But the "kingdom of God" is not a catch-phrase for "heaven." It refers to an orientation, a framework for seeing and doing life, a way of orienting oneself around God and the structures of God. While humans are made to live fully into this God-oriented life, it is hard for us to do so because so many other frameworks and orientations live within us and tug at us. Jesus mentions one such difficulty. "Riches" and possessions too easily become the center around which life is oriented. And that is not only an indictment on those who have a surplus of possessions. Often, those who have little live out of such an all-consuming desire for more that every part of life is oriented around accumulating an abundance. A life-framework that is oriented around possessions and "riches" is not oriented around God.

It is hard for persons to enter a new way of orienting ourselves toward God and life, something like stuffing a camel through the eye of a needle. It is a life-long challenge.

It is hard for the rich to make this paradigm shift. More than the rich, though, it is hard for anyone to make this shift, because we all have a complex and tangled root-system that serves as our basic life-framework. We carry values and allegiances and motivations that determine our orientation. We justify some of them with labels like "religious" or "Christian" or "God-given." Others simply live within us apart from our recognition of them.

In reality, then, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. It is also hard for the prideful to enter the kingdom of God. It is hard for the self-sufficient to enter. It is hard for those who have titles and status to enter. It is hard for those who blindly love their tribe to enter. It is hard for those caught in the traps of competition and comparison to enter. It is hard for those who feel they have all answers to enter. It is hard for all of us to enter the kingdom of God.

I think it's very possible Jesus mentioned the "rich" as merely one example of the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God. He very well could have mentioned any number of other things that you and I hold onto for life.

And this is what we find very hard. We find it hard to orient life not around any number of other things, but around the radically different values of the kingdom of God. It takes a huge paradigm shift to let go of one orientation in order to adopt another. The old framework almost has to be pried from our fingers. We grasp it, clutch it, hold onto it for dear life because it is all we know. Or if not all we know, it is at least what we know best, what we can control, the rules to the game that we know how to play by.

The kingdom of God presents us with a radically alternative orientation, one that takes a great long time to grow into. It is one which we may not truly want to invest ourselves in, yet this framework is the true and authentic structure of the cosmos. This kingdom's orientation represents how the world was made to function and what the world was made for. The rest of life is an illusion, a huge falsity, until we begin to align ourselves with this orientation. We live false, we live a lie until we come to it.

Living a transformed life, a life being formed by the Spirit of God, means that this passing through the needle's eye becomes a part of our life-long journey. This needle's eye kind of life is the only way toward a life of love, mercy, and compassion.

1 comment:

Pete the Brit said...

Wow! ~ Thanks Jerry.