Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Of Camels and Needles’ Eyes

Random “why am I thinking about this, as opposed to the quickly approaching High Holy Days?” teaching…

I've always been fascinated by the New Testament teaching, “it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24) I find it interesting because the metaphor is so completely bizarre and obscure (I mean, is that more or less difficult than fitting an elephant through a paper towel roll? Just asking…), but the lesson is is almost as inscrutable to me.  Is it really impossible for a rich person to get into heaven?  Why should that be so?

I heard an explanation today (from a Rabbi Michael Oblath) which explains away both of these confusions. It seems that, in ancient walled cities, the main city gate (which was always large) would have a smaller door built into it. That way, if the gate needed to be opened for a single person, that smaller door could be used, and the larger, and much more difficult to open (and, much more assault-able) full gate could be left closed. And, as you might guess, the name for that smaller door-within-a-door was: a needle’s eye.

The needle’s eye was the size of a normal door, more or less. Which means that you or I could fit through it easily. But, a camel? That would be harder. It would have to be coaxed through and, in all likelihood, all of the various items which it was carrying would have to be jettisoned, at least temporarily. Even then, it might take some pushing and shoving to get the beast through.

Upshot? If you’re rich, you can still get into heaven. Just be prepared to put in some extra effort. And, don’t be surprised if you have to leave all of your stuff outside – it ain’t going in with you.

A great teaching from a Rabbi who probably had his High Holy Day sermons all done on time, a few thousand years ago.

No comments: