So Jesus again said to them,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 
They were exceedingly astonished and
said among themselves,
"Then who can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them, saying,
"For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. 
All things are possible for God."
MK 10:17-27

Whether Jesus was referring to a literal needle (the kind one can lose in a haystack), or to a tapered passageway in a geological formation such as a mountain pass, or to the narrow gateway to a city, the meaning is the same: fat camels just don't get through . Now, there could be two explanations here. In the first place, camels (dromedaries, that is) have that single fatty hump on their backs which allows them to go without food for up to three weeks; they can also go without drink for seven days because of the oval shape of their blood cells (I'm not going to attempt a scientific explanation here, but you are welcome to check this out on the internet). Perhaps these physical characteristics simply make camels too large to enter restrictive spaces. Secondly, camels at the time of Jesus would often travel in caravans, decked with elaborate leather saddles for their riders and large bundles of baggage. The only way to push, pull or coax a camel through a narrow space would be to 1) wait for its hump to decrease in size (if this is a possibility!); or 2), to remove saddle, rider and luggage. Since the dimensions of a "needle's eye" cannot be changed, it is the camel that has to become more diminutive.

Just as fat camels have their limitations when it comes squeezing through narrow spaces, so do humans. Of course, I am not speaking of physical obesity here but of spiritual obesity which, like a camel's fatness, comes in two forms. Just as the camel's hump is an extension of itself, so we can be bloated with pride, greed, self-infatuation, arrogance, narcissism, lust, a sense of entitlement and so forth. Just as a camel comes into this world without a hump, so we come into this world without any sign of spiritual obesity; in fact, we arrive as naked, squealing infants who want to be fed, loved and kept dry. Our needs are simple: we are completely dependent. As we grow, so does bloat, and it is this bloat that keeps us out of the kingdom of God. Only when we begin serious inner work to lose the weight of this obesity will we become available to God's grace.

Then there is the issue of what we cling to and accumulate. Not content to grow our spiritual bloat, we also acquire "stuff": we spend; we hoard; we over-spend; we want more. Never satisfied, we "live to shop." We "shop till we drop." We fritter away hours online, shopping the latest sales, then wait impatiently for Amazon to deliver. You could say that many of us are addicted to shopping-- it consumes us more than we consume goods! However, scripture tells us that it is only with empty hands that we can enter the reign of God. As long as we cling to things, we are too distracted to know what we are missing spiritually or even to desire it.

The disciples are right in asking, "Then who can be saved?" Only God's grace can prompt us to uncurl our fingers until we let go of all the "things" we so desperately cling to! The good news is that with God, all things are possible!

  1. Are you "humpless" like a newborn camel or have you built a magnificent hump of inflated self-notions and attitudes?
  2. What baggage weighs you down, preventing you from entering through the narrow doorway?
  3. Is there anything you can let go of to allow God greater entry into your life?
  4. Have there been any times in your life when you have consciously "let go" to "let God"?