Sunday, October 25, 2009

Camel, rope, beam--which doesn't belong?

Bowling Alley - Rosthern October 15, 2009
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 25).” That’s one of the metaphors of Jesus that my class will be pondering this morning. And so I’ve read what I could about the possible interpretations of this enigmatic comparison and have decided that the Aramaic word gml, which can mean a rope, a beam or a camel, should probably have been translated rope. “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Evangelical commentators seem to prefer the idea that a gate in the Jerusalem wall would be closed at night but a smaller gate could provide access to man and camel, if the camel were unloaded of its goods first. This theory has been largely discredited.

One of my points this morning will be that one should never overwork a metaphor. Jesus had just invited a wealthy man to get rid of the burden of his money and follow him if he wanted to “inherit eternal life.” The man was heartbroken; he couldn’t bring himself to part with his hard-earned hoard and he walked away. The core of Jesus camel/rope analogy is that money can exert a formidable force on a person. That may be all he was trying to say.

But there’s another angle, I guess. Jack Benny once said jokingly: “If I can’t take it with me, I ain’t goin’!” Whatever realm may exist after death would obviously welcome any newcomer without his/her money. The cash stays behind for the children to squabble over. Call it the unloading of the camel, if you like.

Being a somewhat-anal English teacher, I see the relationship between a rope and a thread and I want to insist that a camel through a needle’s eye is a bad metaphor, whereas a rope through a needle’s eye is superb. I leave it to you to decide whether a camel or a rope is more appropriate to your thinking. (Some have said that a camel is more easily passed through a needle’s eye if it’s lightly greased—a metaphor-overworking joke.)

Actually, it makes little difference. Struggle as you might, passing a camel, a rope or a beam through a needle’s eye are all equally impossible. Point taken. Money (along with a thousand other obsessions: addictions, fame, comfort, status, etc., etc.) has the potential for exerting tenacious holds on people, often preventing them from pursuing nobler objectives.

It still leaves the question of what is meant by needle in this context (2100 years ago) or by Kingdom of God or by pass.

Maybe I should just stay home this morning.

P.S. I led the class through the discussion and it went well, I think. We are agreed that North American Christians (that’s us) are all “rich rulers,” at least by the Two-thirds World’s standard. Sell off our goods and donate the proceeds to the poor? I don’t think so.

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