Many have heard the basics of the story, even if they are unfamiliar with the details. Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. There have been a number of attempts to explain (away) this statement. For example, there is the urban legend of a “Needle’s Gate” that was so low it was difficult for camels to walk under (no such gate existed). The meaning is much more straightforward as the expression was common in the ancient world. In Babylon the comparison for a difficult thing was that it was easier for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle than for that difficult thing to happen. In Babylon the largest known land animal was an elephant whereas in Palestine it was a camel, and the smallest opening in a typical home was the eye of a needle. The imagery was meant to be both humorous and obvious exaggeration to demonstrate the absurdity of a thing.
Jesus said it is more likely for the absurdity of a camel going through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. What did Jesus really say, though? Here is the text from the Gospel According to Matthew, which follows on the heels of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man who did not want to give away his possessions:
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Matthew 19:23–26 ESV
Upon hearing Jesus make the claim that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples are stunned. They ask, “Then who in the world can be saved?” If a rich person can enter the kingdom of heaven but only with great difficulty, what chance do those of us with less material wealth have? They are not saying that entrance into the kingdom comes with a hefty price tag that only the rich can afford.
The response is strange from our perspective as our culture often demonizes those with great wealth. The underlying assumption for many is that those who are rich became so by taking it from the poor and the working class. This was not the assumption in the first century. Those with wealth were those who had been blessed by God. Hear their response again: “If those who have been blessed the most by God can only enter the kingdom of heaven with great difficulty, then who can be saved?” The question now makes more sense!
This story is recorded for us by Matthew. Before following Jesus and becoming his disciple Matthew had been a tax collector. He had been one of those who had, in fact, earned his wealth on the backs of the poor and the working class. He had been viewed as a traitor to his people by collecting taxes for the Roman authorities and contributing to the oppression of his people while he himself lived in great luxury.
Notice closely Jesus’ response in verse 26: “But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” It would be a mistake to think that Jesus is speaking of either the rich or the poor. The truth is he is speaking of both. With man, whether rich or poor, this—entering the kingdom of heaven—is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Our salvation is a miracle of God. In every case it is a miracle that can be described as miraculous as a camel going through the eye of a needle. Neither you nor I can make this happen, but with God all things are possible.
This is why we must pray for one another. Each one of us needs this nothing-is-impossible ability of God working in us. This miracle of God is not a one-time thing in our lives. God is working in us—present tense. There is the miracle of regeneration, of the new birth that brought forth faith in us, but God is working in us as we travel along the path he has laid out for us. We need his miraculous power to sustain us along the way.
As we pray for one another today, pray for our faith in Jesus to grow. Pray for our endurance in difficult situations. Pray for God to provide for our needs, especially for those who have lost jobs or have reduced income. Pray for those who feel isolated and alone, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who need encouragement. Whether you’re rich or poor, you need God’s miraculous work in your life. Let’s pray for one another to receive God’s miracle today.