Sunday, August 13, 2006

Camel stories

Camels are strange looking beasts. I know a lot of very funny stories about them. One of the funniest concernes a camel trying to squeeze himself so small that he will fit into a very tiny place. In fact, so small that he would go through the eye of a needle.

The story of the rich young ruler is not preached much from affluent pulpits, and if it is there are always two caveats. First, they say that this isn't meant to be applied to everybody, only to specific cases; and second, they indicate that the 'eye of the needle' that the camel is supposed to pass through isn't an actual needle, but refers to a very small gate in the walls of Jerusalem, which a camel could just about go through, as long as it went through on its knees and divested itself of all its accoutrements.

To deal with the second first: this is an absolute fiction. There never was such a gate. It was invented in the eleventh century to give rich people wriggle room.

The picture of the camel divesting itself of all its possessions and humbling itself by bowing low, tells us that we need to do something - just what the rich young ruler thought.

But if it's a real needle the camel doesn't need to change his clothes, he need to change himself, and that's what's impossible with men; but with God all things are possible.

And why do we think it doesn't apply to us?

I suppose because we believe in free grace. Salvation is a free gift.

The point of the story of the rich young ruler is that he didn't. What can I do to inherit eternal life?

To receive salvation you have to come to the point of realising that nothing you can do will achieve salvation. The rich young ruler claimed he had kept the commandments from his youth up. Jesus plays along with him. Which commandments? The list he gives is of the 'social commandments' - murder, theft, adultery, - generally loving your neighbor as yourself. In the non-cannonical Gospel of the Hebrews, we see Jesus turning to him and pointing out that many of his Jewish brothers are living in poverty, hungry and without shelter, while he lives in the lap of luxury. That's not in the Bible, but Jesus would have had every reason to say it, and his actual instruction to sell all that he had and give to the poor, implies that rebuke.

But the ten Commandments begin with "Thou shall have no other gods before me."

And here is the application that is relevant to our hearts. Everyone of us in the West is rich. You have access to clean water? You are rich. You have had an education? You are rich. You are a woman who can walk down the street without fear of rape or abuse? You are rich. For the true poor in this world (and there are millions of them)have none of these. I sometimes get angry at those who tell us about the poor among us and show us on our television screens those living on the minimum wage or a pension, who neverthelesss are smoking and watching color television. Why is it that millions of migrants are coming to our shores, prepared to work for slave wages and yet send money home to their relatives? Only becsuse conditions are far worse in their home countries.

If we are rich then we should see this story as a warning. It may be that money is not the idol that we hold more dearly than God, but it may be the means by which we obtain the idol. Is it pride of possesions? The way we demonstrate that we are somebody - the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the neighborhood we live in, the school we can send our children to?

Is it simply greed? Our need to own every new thing that we see advertised?

Is it security? Something we are saving for a rainy day? You may not be extravagant, but are you a miser? Is your security your money or your God?

Jesus didn't tell this to the rich young ruler to shame him. We read in Mark 10:21 That Jesus looked at him and loved him.

The application for us is to look honestly at ourselves and ask ourselves the question, "What is our money for?"

The rich young ruler was offered the chance to lay up treasure in heaven.

People often have it the wrong way round. They think it says to put your treasure where your heart is, but what it actually says is "where your treasure is there will your heart be also". And how true that is. When we invest in something we are so much more interested in its wellbeing. If we have shares in Manchester united we will follow the football results. If we put our money in bricks and mortar we will be concerned about the housing market. If we put our money into missionary work we will be concerned about the lost.

No comments: