Camels and needles

Bedtime Theology with the 9 yo...   

(After reading the Bible story about the rich man's request/ camels going through the eye of a needle)

9 yo: Mommy, I’d be sad if I had to sell all my stuffies and my Pokemon cards and all my toys.

Me: Well, yeah, that’s true. I wonder if maybe Jesus really didn’t intend for all of us to sell all of our possessions. I wonder what he meant?

9 yo: Maybe we could sell some of our stuff and give the money to the poor? But not all of our stuff.

Me: Yeah, I think that makes sense.

9 yo: If everybody sold everything, who would they sell it to?

Me: (Laughing) Well, yes, that’s true. It wouldn't work if every single person sold every single thing.

6 yo: (Walking in to the conversation) I wouldn’t sell everything. I’d just become a ghost.

9 yo: (Eyeroll) “Everybody” includes the ghosts.

As an oldest child and recovering people pleaser with perfectionist tendencies (okay I sometimes relapse), I can relate to the man in the Bible story that I read to my kids, above. It's from Mark 10:17-31: a man comes approaches Jesus and asks how to "inherit" eternal life (it's a silly question because the typical requirement to inherit is to still be alive when someone who loves you dies - it's not about what you do). 

But the man asks and Jesus answers by listing some commandments. The man replies that he has kept all of them. Hah! He's never read Martin Luther's explanation of the Ten Commandments, including that anyone who hates in his heart has broken the one about murder. But anyway, Jesus then asks him to do something else: sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and then come and follow him. 

The man, probably an oldest/perfectionist/people pleaser, hangs his head and walks away. He's done everything right, but he still failed. Thanks a lot, Jesus. 

My kids had the same (predictable) reaction to this text - Jesus was asking too much of the man, and it's not practical anyway. No one wants to be standing in front of Jesus when he makes a request like this. No one I know will take this text literally, even those who swear that they take the Bible that way.

In sermons and text studies over the years, I've heard lots of explanations for this text. I agree that we can't take it literally, but we still should take it seriously. Generosity with our time, possessions and money is a hallmark of Christian discipleship. We are meant to give things away: our time, talents and possessions, as a Lutheran liturgy goes. But sometimes the pocketbook is the last to convert.

I've heard it suggested that one way to think about this text is that there literally was an "Eye of the Needle" gate in Jerusalem at this time. The story goes that camel drivers had to unload their animals' cargo to squeeze the beasts through. This story has, apparently, been proven to be a myth. But it's a good point. We can't hold onto everything. 

My two-year-old has this habit of attempting to climb the stairs at bedtime with as many toys as possible that he cannot bear to part with overnight. Tonight he was trying to hold three toy tractors and climb the stairs. He still needs the handrail or a hand, so after he struggled up two steps like that, tractors akimbo and about to fall, he handed two of them to me. "Mommy carry crack-tors." Then he took my hand with his free one. He did not hesitate to hand things to me to lighten his load. He trusted that he'd get them back again when we reached the top of the stairs. He knew it wasn't a total loss. 

There's a lot of things I'd like to let go of - literally and metaphorically- so I can cling to the hand of the heavenly parent who loves me. I can trust that whatever I hand off isn't really lost, even if I don't see it again in this earthly realm. Nothing is lost when God holds it. 

I think about how I can teach this to my children. They're solidly in the accumulation phase of life; meanwhile, I'm trying to purge things, as well as habits, beliefs and stories I tell myself that really don't serve me or God. My son had a good suggestion, as far as being open to the idea of letting a few things go. Maybe it's a start.

The story Bible that we're reading lately (the Whirl Story Bible) has this to say at the end of the story about the camel and the eye of the needle:

"'If we do those all those things, will we live with God forever?' wondered the disciples?

It's not about what YOU do. It's about God.' Jesus replied. 'You aren't in charge of who enters God's kingdom. GOD is in charge. And with God ALL things are possible.'"

As I said, inheritance isn't about you, it's about the one who loves you - the heavenly parent holding your hand. 


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