Thrive: Easier for a Camel – Valerie Burton

BWIM_logoJust then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
— Matthew 19: 16-30

Most days, I believe it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one of his disciples to interpret Jesus’ teaching. Why were they so caught off guard by this quip from Jesus that has become one of his most familiar sayings? Since none of the disciples were wealthy, it doesn’t make sense that they should identify with “the rich.” But we must remember that the young man who asked the original question was presented as a model citizen and student of Jewish law. He had done everything right. Therefore, in the eyes of the disciples, his wealth was evidence of God’s approval and blessing. So, if he was not acceptable in God’s sight, who is?

When it comes to who is IN, with Jesus, it is never the one you would expect. It doesn’t matter how decent, how law-abiding, how charitable, or how religious you are. Jesus is watching to see where you place yourself in line and who you invite to stand with you. These fishermen, tax collectors, and fathers and sons who sacrificed everything to follow Jesus were told not to concern themselves with rewards in this life, but to trust that all who follow Jesus—all who forsake family relationships and possessions—will inherit eternal life, the very thing the nearly perfect young man sought.

The Gospel of Matthew might make us think that faith and works are keys to salvation, but at certain points, Jesus corrects this notion. By grace, and grace alone, there is hope for all of us. Eternal life is a gift, a free gift to all those who least expect it. But, by the grace of God, eternal life is also granted to those of us who have expected it and have worked for it. After all, with God, all things are possible.

val.crop_2_smValerie Burton serves as the Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala. She is a graduate of Belmont University, Nashville, and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. She has served churches in Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama for 25 years. Valerie enjoys a rich and full life with her husband Allan, their two young sons, and one old dog.

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