Humbling and Impossible

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25)

One school of interpretation has it that the “eye of the needle” to which our Lord refers in this simile is a very low gate in the ancient wall of Jerusalem, the only gate that was kept open at night. An armed guard would stand watch at this gate. He would allow a mounted man through, provided the rider identified himself as a citizen or a friend. To pass through the low gate, however, his camel would have to kneel down and crawl.

Apparently, this nighttime gate may sometimes have been called “the eye of the needle.” Thus, the Lord Jesus’ audience could have thought of a kneeling, crawling camel, humbly bowing low to enter the city, when they heard His simile about the rich entering the kingdom of God.

Another school of thought, however, categorically rejects this interpretation. For one thing, we do not know for a fact that there even was such a low gate in the Jerusalem wall at the time of Christ. The walls of Jerusalem have been destroyed and re-built so many times that they often baffle the science of archaeology.

And even if there were such a low gate when the Lord spoke this simile, the Jerusalem-gate interpretation must be false, because it disagrees with the subsequent sentence. The Lord did not say that it requires great humility for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He did not say that the rich man must bow low like a crawling camel in order to save himself. No. Christ said simply: “For human beings it is impossible.” Impossible.

Now, before we contend with that, let’s pause and notice how blithely the Lord Jesus shifted from “the rich” to “human beings.” The conversation instantaneously moved from the isolated case of the particular wealthy young man to: everybody.

No surprise, really. Our beloved late Holy Father, Blessed Pope John Paul II, explained in an encyclical Christ’s conversation with the Rich Young Man. The Pope pointed out that the Lord Jesus has this same exact conversation with every human being.

We all have in our possession an innumerable number of exceedingly precious things. We have life, liberty, and our propensity to pursue happiness. We have the sun in the morning and the moon at night. Many of us also have cars, assorted pots and pans, tvs, etc.

So we turn to the Higher Power, to the Good Teacher, wondering: What must I do to inherit life that cannot be crushed and annihilated by death? And He says, “Well, looky here! Just so happens that I have conveniently spelled out Ten Commandments for you! Sure, these commandments may seem obvious, basic, perhaps even easy to observe…”

“But, Good Teacher! I have been observing Your commandments. In fact, I know no other way to live. I could no sooner betray a lifetime marriage vow, or cheat someone in business, or quit going to church, than I could kill a baby in the womb or strangle a sick person in his hospital bed!”

In other words, “Good Teacher, I am a good person!”

And I daresay that maybe we are. I get a fair amount of reading and praying done during my hours sitting in the confessional. So I can only imagine that not a lot of mortal sins are being committed around here.

What does that mean? It means that the Lord gazes upon us, loves us, and says: Let go of everything and follow me. To every human soul, the Good Teacher says: Let go of everything, and follow me to Calvary Hill.

We strive to follow the Commandments. But then come the questions. 1. Of all the things I have, which is the most important? 2. Of all the things I enjoy, which do I desire the most? 3. Leaving aside all the things I control, who controls me?

Lord, who can be saved? For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

God—Who cannot be seen, cannot be bought, cannot be boxed, or shipped, or charged with a credit card on-line: Can the invisible, unknown Other be my most prized possession?

Seems impossible, simply impossible. The finite creature cannot possess the infinite Creator. But for God, all things are possible. He can give Himself to us.

God—Who cannot be tasted or touched, Who does not put on make-up, or go to parties; with Whom I could never share a couch: can the invisible, unknown Other be the object of the most passionate desire of my body and soul?

Seems impossible, simply impossible. We human animals come fitted-out with certain strong natural desires for food, comfort, and the carrying on of the species. But for God, all things are possible. He can make us desire Him above all things.

God—Who speaks silently, commands by gently submitting to crucifixion, takes charge by vanishing into heaven, asserts His authority by leaving us terrifyingly free: can He really be the daily captain of my entire personal life?

Seems impossible, simply impossible. I am too incorrigibly willful. But for God, all things are possible. He can teach me to co-operate.

One thought on “Humbling and Impossible

  1. Father Mark,

    Impossible, perhaps even more so than “an innumerable number”. But, my favorite aspect of this reading from Mark 10 is “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” It has always given me great hope.

    Which, I might surmise, exactly your point!

    Thanks for being there.

    In God we trust.



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