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.



Computers apparently take the fun out of everything. That seems to be the message that we get from motoring programmes because invariably when they are testing a car around a track the presenters turn off the computer aided traction control systems. This is followed by lots of tyre smoke, high-speed cornering, power slides and whoops of delight. I am not sure what it says about me but I have a traction control system on my car and I am terrified that the idea of turning it off. I am blessed by the cruise control however.

Flight 1549 on the Hudson, picture from http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Computers are also very good at flying aeroplanes. Autopilots enable an aeroplane to fly on a predetermined course and altitude without deviation, and auto land systems can even land an aeroplane successfully. I am glad that these systems exist on passenger aircraft but they would be no good for the Red Arrows! and they cannot adapt to emergency situations. When US Airways flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese and needed to make an emergency landing it needed the skill and experience of Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger to land it spectacularly on the Hudson River enabling all 155 occupants to evacuate safely.

This morning I am preparing the next session in our “Expedition Through the Bible” course that I am leading at our church. This week we are looking at how we interpret what we read and is part of it I will be explaining how I prepare a sermon. The process of trying to explain the process of sermon preparation has made me realise that when I approach a passage I am on autopilot: my preparation processes happen automatically and without me thinking too much about them. That does not make it a fair process, any more than the ability to drive without having to think too much about what you are doing makes that bad. But it has been helpful for me just to pause and reflect on the process that I go through in order to try and ensure that I am not relying solely on a tried and tested routine and excluding God from some aspects of that preparation.

I guess that same principle applies to all aspects of our lives. Something is we do automatically, without thinking about it, without involving God and it.  It is worth pausing sometimes and reflecting on how we are living to make sure that we are not excluding God from any aspect of our lives. And yet when we pause and reflect we will find that involving God makes a difference. It is like turning off the traction control system on a car or the autopilot on an aeroplane. Suddenly it is a little bit riskier, a little bit more dangerous, more faith filled, less conventional. But instead of us being behind the wheel or the yoke we relinquish control to God and strap ourselves in beside him!

Be blessed, be a blessing.