Well, because Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:25; Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25) I count this pronouncement among few other “Ipsisisma verba Iesu” (The very words of Jesus). The Early church tradition would hardly created such an outlandish statement and assign it to Jesus. This saying originated with Jesus and became a proverbial expression of impossibility. And from the earliest times people were perplexed and challenged by this idea and were coming with different and diverse theories and solutions about how to explain and rationalize and normalize this statement (often with inferior motives to justify and exonerate the rich). But this statement is not rational; it is a marvelous poetic hyperbole. And similar to any other poetry it is loaded with deep meaning. It follows different, non-rational, poetic, intuitive logic. This Sunday we will be challenged and encouraged by this outlandish poetical message.
Now, a tangential thought. This hyperbolic saying is interesting for its other feature which is hardly ever noticed. It is about sewing. In traditional pre-industrial societies sewing was a domestic activity of women. For the world which was highly structured and divided by gender roles, this is truly surprising. Jesus paid curious and empathic attention to the world of women. For instance the Talmud does it also, but here, with Jesus, it is different! A female domestic world is lifted up or the Kingdom of God is lowered down to match each other. Our saying couples closely the Kingdom of God with sewing needles. And an other parable does it with housewife making bread, another time the Kingdom of God is being compared to sweeping and housecleaning, just imagine! This is not just a coincidence, this is an interesting repeating pattern.
Jesus compares the great theme of the rule of God with household chores. Firstly it questions and undermines stiff gender roles and divisions in the society. Secondly it brings forward revolutionary new theology. It presents new ways of talking and thinking about God. It introduces a new and different kind of divinity, not with a sword but with a needle, not with a spear but a broom, not destroying and torching the disobedient, but kneading and baking bread for the hungry. Indeed, with God everything is possible, if only people paid attention!
|Bronze sewing needle from Hellenistic period.|
It is written in a certain gospel called the Gospel of the Hebrews - if anyone will accept it, not as authoritative, but to shed light on the question at hand:
“The second rich man said to him, ‘Teacher, what good do I have to do to live?’
He said to him, ‘Sir, follow the Law and the Prophets.’
He answered, ‘I’ve done that.’
He said to him, ‘Then go sell everything you own and give it away to the poor and then come follow me.’
But the rich man didn’t want to hear this and began to scratch his head. And the Lord said to him, ‘How can you say that you follow the Law and the Prophets? In the Law it says: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Now, look around: many of your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Abraham, are living in filth and dying of hunger. Your house is full of good things and not a thing of yours manages to get out to them.” Turning to his disciple Simon, who was sitting with him, he said, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, it is easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye than for a wealthy person to get into heaven’s domain.’