Going through the Eye of the Needle

October 18, 2009

GOSPEL LESSON: Mark 10:23-31

23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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.” And since that time, people have been trying to make either the eye of the needle larger or the thread smaller. Peter was the first to try to make the thread smaller. He said, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” It is as if a person could get rid of unnecessary things and make himself or herself smaller in order to squeeze through the eye of the needle. Some Bible commentators tell how there was a narrow gate in the wall of Jerusalem that a camel loaded with merchandise could not pass through, unless the baggage had to been taken off first. So in this understanding, a rich man would have to get rid of his excess riches to enter the heavenly gate. That is the big gate, big needle-eye theory. And so Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

My old Seminary Professor, Fred Danker, says that Jesus likes hyperbole, exaggerations, when telling parables to make a point. For example, Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41). So, Professor Danker says that Jesus means a real camel and a real needle eye. That is how the disciples first understood it, as we see in this conversation. 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” So, whether a rich man or a poor man, a human being is too big to pass through the eye of a needle. It is impossible. Salvation is impossible for a human to save himself or herself. But God can do it, “For all things are possible with God.”

Now, I am a guy, and we men like to fix things. If there is a problem we want to fix it. That is why men like to have a tool box in the house. Today’s problem is how to get into heaven. The door in the pearly gate is the size of a needle eye, that is to say, the requirements of God are very strict. God demands holiness. God demands that we are perfect and righteous and sinless. But we are human. It is not just that we do sinful things, but it that our human nature is sinful. That is, even if we kept all the Ten Commandments, lived lives of perfect harmony and love, and had perfect faith in God; our human nature would still be sinful.

I like to fix things. I like to find solutions. Let us imagine that rather than a thread or fat rope which we wanted to get through the needle eye that we had a big rock. Of course it is impossible for it to go through the needle eye the way it is. The rock has to change. We will beat it and grind it into sand. Then we can pour it right through the eye. This is the only way that humans can get though the eye. This grinding down of our sin and pride is called “repentance.” The first words of Jesus when he started his public ministry were, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Change your life, change your behavior, and change your beliefs. Repentance might turn us into sand, but we will still be on the wrong side of the needle. It is only the Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ that will bring us through to the other side.

If we turn our stone into sand and get it to the other side, we no longer have a stone, but just a pile of sand or dust. We will have to mix it with concrete or shape it like clay to make something useful out of it. And then we can change it into whatever wonderful shape we want to. Humans are the same. After passing through the needle eye of repentance, we will need to be reformed. We need a reformation, we need reconciliation with God, we resurrection. It is the Holy Spirit that reshapes us into the image of God. The Holy Spirit rejuvenates us into something useful to God.

Repentance is death. It is death to the old person. Absolution, or forgiveness, is resurrection of a new person. This works for us because Jesus died and rose again. Of course he had committed no sin, but he took upon himself our sin. In his sacrifice on the cross he forgave our sin. And that is why on the third day Jesus was able to pass through that needle eye of the entrance of the tomb. He was holy. He was alive. He proved that “all things are possible with God.” Through repentance and absolution, we are made anew. We are recreated by God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

Which side of the needle are you on? I think in our Christian life that we find ourselves about half way through. If we are a thread, we are part way through, but there is a lot of our life that we have not purified yet. We still have our old habits and prejudices and greed. We have a lot of baggage that we do not want to get rid of. Or if we get rid of some of the junk of our lives, we pick it up again and slip further out of the needle. This is like the expression “to be backslidden.” There are a few chunks of our lives that haven’t yet been pulverized. Next week we will be celebrating the Lutheran Protestant Reformation. One of the themes or expressions of Lutheran theology is that we are “at the same time saints and sinners,” “simul Justus et peccator.” We have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. What I love about this expression is that it reminds me that it is frustrating to try to be good, and it is impossible for me to be perfect in the eyes of God. And yet, in the eyes of God I am justified, I am a saint worthy of eternal life. And it is all because Jesus became a sinner and went through the door of the tomb into resurrected life.

All things are possible with God.” The camel can pass through the eye of the needle. The rich man can enter the Kingdom of God. We, too, can have eternal life. And that eternal life begins right now when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. This is the mystery of our faith, and the fascination we have with the power and love and mercy of God. God has done the impossible for us. He sent his Son to be our Savior. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us in our lives to make the impossible possible through faith in Jesus Christ.


Michael Nearhood, Pastor
Okinawa Lutheran Church

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