(Continued from Camels and needles, the Kingdom and peoples, part 1.)
Mark 10: 23-27 (emphasis added)
Other verses truly are about how the love of possessions can lead to sin (1 Timothy 6:10). To learn that lesson, we can refer to those passages. But Mark 10 is not about that.
Did the disciples think like a lot of us do: that of course, the money of the rich gets in the way of true goodness and spiritual concerns? If they did, why were they “exceedingly astonished”? Instead they would have nodded their heads, like we often do. Yes, that ugly Donald Trump, living it up, buying whole island chains during coffee breaks — he’ll never get into Heaven.
Rather, to Christ’s disciples, the “rich” was not our perception of a greedy uber-capitalist Bernie Madoff. To them, rich people were religious scholars, people who cared for the Earth, community pillars, recyclers, good people who gave to charity and helped the poor. Their wealth enabled them to be more spiritual than thou. Without the pressures of a 50-hour-a-week job, they had more time to be spiritual and donate to all the worthy causes.
Jesus took direct aim. In effect, He said that it would be easier for a literal camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for anyone uber-“good” to enter the Kingdom of God.
How about this? It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a (select one: dedicated public schoolteacher, loving mother, soup-kitchen volunteer, 50-year missionary veteran, Mother Teresa, the Pope, Billy Graham, Bono) to enter the kingdom of God.
If such good people can’t get into God’s kingdom, no one can. Not by himself. Not by virtue of goodness or wealth or spirituality or care for the Earth or giving money to the poor and needy.
“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
So it turns out any of those people could get into the kingdom of Heaven. A Pharisee could get there. A rich person could get there. Billy Graham could get there. A schoolteacher, a charity worker, Mother Teresa and Bono could get there, too. But not because of their good deeds.
Only if God makes it possible can a rich or “spiritual” person be saved. If you’re relying on good works, love for your neighbor, following the “golden rule” or charity work, you won’t get in.
Like many people, I heard this teaching of Christianity through all my life: salvation is only from Jesus, good works won’t save you, and so on. But it took someone debunking the wrong idea of this passage for me to see that this truth was here too.
Jesus was consistent. He did not spout off a Book-of-Proverbs-style statement to confuse us. He said He was the only way to enter the Kingdom, and He stayed on message, always.
Isn’t this meaning almost exactly opposite to how the verse is read today?
New strains of “Christians” (real and otherwise) pushing for “social justice” may hear the needle’s-eye-gate myth, debunk it, and claim real Christians should see wealth as inherently evil. But to borrow another metaphor only Christ could create, they’ve caught a gnat-sized error in their strainer — but swallowed a camel.
If you trust in your riches and charity work instead of Christ, you’ll die. Trust in some notion of virtuous poverty and caring for the needy? You’ll also die. All people’s own “righteousness” amount to filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6), and without the right faith, any good deed mutates into sin (Romans 14:23, Hebrews 11:6). Only Christ through His fulfillment of the Law (the real one) and suffering and death as an atoning sacrifice for sins (1 John 4:10), not human works or “righteousness,” can save.