Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Eye of a Needle

When Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, it was a joke, but He wasn’t kidding. In modern language He could have said that it would easier to sell refrigerators to Eskimos; or maybe the rich man has a snowball’s chance in hell. It was that sort of statement. He went on to add; but anything is possible with God. This camel story appears three times in the Bible, so it was no casual comment.

That passage has worried me all my life and I think it comes down to the definition of “rich.” By the world’s standards, all Americans are rich. By my standards, anyone with more money than me is rich. I once thought that rich meant running water and flush toilets. Now I’m more inclined to think that it means gold-plated faucets.

My favorite recent definition of “rich” is to demonstrate our ability to be wasteful.

Not too many decades ago, if we owned land we used it to graze livestock, plant crops, or build something on it. Somebody decided that they could flagrantly demonstrate their wealth by setting aside a piece of prime real estate in front of their house. They would not graze cattle, or grow food, but just grow grass and then cut it down and throw it away. Now, just about everybody has a lawn, but few remember the purpose was to demonstrate that we are so wealthy that we have land to waste.

When Jesus condemned the rich, I think He was referring to the flagrant waste of resources. Fast forward two thousand years. How do we flagrantly waste resources? Are we so rich that we never have to open a window but instead rely on heating and air conditioning to maintain an even temperature in our office buildings? Are we so rich that we can drive around in oversized vehicles that are too large for our purposes? Are we so rich that we not only set aside space to raise grass just to look at, but then use millions of gallons of water to keep it green, just to cut it down? Are we so rich that we can keep fifty gallons of water hot, just in case we need it, instead of heating water only when we want hot water? I could go on for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

In the Old Testament, in II Samuel 15:1 “Absalom provided for himself a chariot with horses and fifty men to run in front of him.” I laugh every time I read that because I know so many people who would do that if they could. I presume that in Absalom’s time that was the equivalent of as stretch limo. He used it to impress people and it apparently worked. If you haven’t heard of Absalom, it is because God was not nearly as impressed as the people were and he quickly met his demise.

King Solomon is depicted as one of the wisest and wealthiest men ever to have lived, but he died unhappy and dejected. His autobiographical poem, the “Book of Ecclesiastes,” often refers to the vanity of chasing after things.

Surveys indicate that if there is any correlation between wealth and happiness it is the opposite of what we might expect. The wealthiest people are often among the most unhappy. The lottery has destroyed more lives than it has ever brought happiness.

Is it possible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Well, like Jesus said, “Anything is possible with God.”