of camels and needles

You’d almost think I have some sort of plan for this blog (only ‘almost’). Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about grace, based on Jesus saying to a rich young man, “You lack one thing…”

I wrote that I would come back to the passage itself and today that’s my intention. You can find the passage in Luke 18:18-30.

In the context of Luke’s gospel this passage comes as part of a series of encounters Jesus had with different people where he confronted contemporary concepts of ‘greatness’ and how God views us differently to the way that humans look at each other. It seems to me that the rich young man who approached Jesus wanted him to validate his ticket into heaven. He reckoned he was good enough to get into God’s good books and, to the outside observer, he would have been a prime candidate. He was a good man (notice that he called Jesus ‘good’ and perhaps wanted him to reciprocate). He was rich, which was (and is?) seen as a sign of God’s blessing on him.

But what he lacked was the ability to put God first in his life. He was religiously righteous, but it was a skin deep religiosity that was not bearing fruit in his life. He knew about God but he did not know God. He was living for himself – keeping the law – but failed to sense God’s heart. Why did Jesus tell him to give all his money to the poor? It was not just to see if he would let go of his money and the hold it had on him – if that was the case Jesus could have told him to give the money to anyone. It was to see if he shared God’s love and compassion for the poor and needy and if he was willing to do something about it.

DESCRIPTION: Man lying trampled on the ground, camel walking off CAPTION: AND THEN HE HAD A MUCH BETTER IDEA OF EXACTLY HOW HARD IT WAS FOR RICH FOLK TO GET INTO HEAVENThe narrative moves on from this point to a consideration of how to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Creative ideas have been offered in response to this including that it referred to a small gate into Jerusalem through which camels would only fit if they had been unloaded first (no archaeological or historical evidence of this) or perhaps a contemporary suggestion of using a liquidiser (apologies to the squeamish) but they did not exist in Jesus’ day. It is quite likely that he was using a contemporary idiom or joke about things that were difficult to make the point that it is incredibly difficult for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because we are tempted to rely on our own resources much more readily than we are to rely on God. Because we can easily get distracted from God by ‘stuff’. Because we can become self-absorbed and fail to see things how God sees them (ignoring the poor, for example).

You will have noticed that I said ‘we’ in the last paragraph. Judging wealth purely on average income I am including in the ‘we’ anyone whose monthly wage is greater than £1000. That is the average wage of the world based on averaging all of the average wages. However only a quarter of the world’s population earn this amount. The average monthly wage of the poorest in the world is about £21. So you are part of the ‘we’ if you earn more than that a month.

How’s it looking for your camel? How’s your relationship with God? How’s your relationship with your wealth? 

Be blessed, be a blessing.


Is this a ‘bah humbug’ moment for me?

The alert among you may have noticed the absence of any bloggerel from me yesterday. It was not intentional but simply a lack of time and space in which to reflect, write and post something. I hope that you, dearest bloggist, will forgive me.

All this week people are doing bizarre and silly things to raise funds for BBC’s Children in Need appeal. I saw a larger-than-life-sized Pudsey Bear walking through Colchester earlier today with acolytes sporting teddy bear ears and brandishing collecting buckets. Other people will have sat in baths of beans, kept silent, bungee jumped and done other silly things to raise money.

On the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 they are auctioning off some incredible events this week. People are bidding vast sums of money to win these events: £140,000 was paid today for four people to have a round of golf (admittedly a luxury package you could not buy normally). The money goes to a very good cause and the aspects of the package have been donated by kind and generous individuals and companies. They are also holding a raffle disguised as a competition to enable ‘normal’ people to participate in one of these packages for just over £1. I am not critical of the generosity, the fundraising or the cause.

But there’s something about it that is grating with me. It is the amount of money that is being flaunted on national radio for these different events and packages. The amounts being bid are FAR beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in this country. Only a very rich minority of people are able to bid for them, yet the rest of us are obliged to listen (or change channel). And it is the extravagant luxury of the packages and events that are being offered when many people have to choose between heating and eating. People who are struggling to find the money to buy food this week are listening to this vast wealth being bid for frivolous pursuits. Those who have lost their jobs and are worried about whether they can meet the mortgage payments or rent are listening to people bidding the value of their house for a game of golf.

It has highlighted for me the inequality that is inherent in our society and in the world. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, when he was defending the extravagant act of worship of the woman (Mary) pouring expensive perfume on his feet and wiping them with her hair. Her extravagance was criticised under the pretext of being able to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor, but was (in my view) more motivated by the lack of comprehension and shallowness of devotion of the onlookers. Jesus was not endorsing extravagance per se, but acknowledging the depth of emotion and devotion that had motivated this act of adoration. And he was most certainly not suggesting that we flaunt wealth in the face of those who are poor.

Wealth is relative. So is poverty. Compared to some of the people who have bid successfully for these events I am relatively poor. But compared to many people in this country and most people in this world I am relatively rich. And because I am a relative (by adoption) of Jesus I need to make sure that I use that relative wealth in the way that he would, which is a big challenge! Jesus encouraged generosity in his people, but he also said we should do it in secret, not ostentatiously on national radio.

(And if I am honest I probably need to ask him to help me with the jealousy I feel of those who have been able to bid such large amounts of money to this charitable cause to buy experiences to give them pleasure and entertainment).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The poorly paid local pastor grew watermelons to suppliment his meager income. He was doing pretty well, but he was disturbed by some local lads who would sneak into his watermelon patch at night and eat his watermelons. After some careful thought, he came up with a clever idea that he thought would scare the lads away for sure.

He made up a sign and posted it in the field. The next night, the lads showed up and they saw the sign which read, “Warning! One of the watermelons in this field has been injected with cyanide.”

When the pastor returned the next morning, he surveyed the field. He noticed that no watermelons were missing, but at the bottom of his sign were the words: “Now there are two!”

an election-free zone (well almost)

In the light of the electoral confusion and (perhaps) chaos I feel the need to offer something that is not about the election. That is not to say that I think it is unimportant (far from it) but it seems like the whole country is on the radio, TV and twittering and blogging about it and it’s almost overpowering. I don’t think I have anything to add, save that I would like to invite all my Christian friends to pray that the elected politicians will put aside partisan power politics and seek to serve the country and the best interests of the poorest and most marginalised. That’s my take on it all.

Having said that this would be an election-free zone I have failed in the first paragraph. Sorry. I will do better now.

We have got to the stage in our household where our faithful second car is in terminal decline. It has decided to water the ground on which it stands and drives – sharing its coolant with everyone. A recent visit to the garage resulted in the mechanic informing us that it was not worth repairing. We can keep it going for the time being by carrying around a big bottle of water and topping up, but that is far from convenient! (picture not of our car, but one like it)

So we will be looking for a replacement car. I feel torn about this. Not out of any sentimental loyalty to the current car, even though it has hitherto been reliable and relatively cheap to run. My angst comes from a realisation of how privileged we are that we can even consider having two cars. In order for both Sally and I to maintain our employment and act as parental taxis it is most convenient for us to have two cars, but there are many in this country for whom one car is an aspiration and many across the world for whom it is a luxury.

How do we live as ‘rich Christians in an age of hunger’ (which is the title of a provocative book by Ron Sider)? I think the answer lies in our attitude. If we consider our wealth and possessions to be our entitlement and right we have missed the point of much of Jesus’ teaching. We should move from greed to generosity and seek to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for all that we have. Everything we have is on trust from God and it is up to us how we use it. But he will want us to give an account for it!

A billionaire became a Christian and was profoundly affected by the encounter Jesus had with a rich young man. Jesus had told the man to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and then follow him. It was too much for that man, but the billionaire decided to try.

He set up charitable trusts to run hospitals and orphanages all around the world. He gave away much of his wealth to help lift people out of poverty. He even donated some of his houses as homes for the homeless.

Jesus was impressed. One night he came to the millionaire (he had given away most of his wealth by then) in a dream.

“We are so pleased with you,” he said. “You are an example to so many. Bless you!”

“Thank you, Lord,” said the millionaire. “But I have one request. Do you think I could bring something into heaven to remind me of my wealth?”

“Well, my son,” said Jesus, “the rule is that you came into the world with nothing and you can take nothing with you from it. However in your case we will make an exception. You can bring into heaven what you can carry in your briefcase.”

The millionaire woke up and went to his safe. From the safe he picked up a gold bar and put it in his briefcase. Then he handcuffed the case to his wrist. From that day onwards he was never separated from his briefcase. He became known as a bit of an eccentric because of this, but the millionaire did not mind.

Finally the day came when he died. He arrived at the pearly gates with his briefcase still handcuffed to his wrist. St Peter met him.

“Welcome!” he said expansively. “We are thrilled to have you here…” His voice tailed off as he saw the briefcase. “I’m sorry about this,” he said, “but the rule is that you can’t bring anything with you.”

“But Jesus appeared to me in a dream and said I could bring what I could carry in my briefcase,” explained the man (no longer a millionaire because he had left most of his wealth behind on earth).

St Peter excused himself as he went off to check. He came back smiling. “I am so sorry to have doubted you, but it’s so unusual I had to check. You are right, Jesus said you can bring in whatever you can carry.”

He paused.

“I hope you don’t mind my curiosity,” said St Peter, “But I would love to know what you have brought in your briefcase.”

“Not a problem,” said the man and he proudly opened his briefcase to show his gold bar.

St Peter looked at him, puzzled.

“You brought pavement?!”