I did not want to push my new pastor too far just yet, so I did not actually bring a live camel into the church for my homily this past Sunday – I used a little stuffed animal that somebody got for me while we were in the Holy Land instead. However, I did do a version of the homily with the live camel outside of church before Mass, and you can watch the video here:
We hear this powerful message from Jesus. There is a good man that wants to inherit eternal life. He says to Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He goes on to say, "I followed all the Commandments." He has done everything right for his whole life. You would think this is a good guy, right? He is going to get into heaven. Then Jesus says something very shocking.
First of all, Jesus does not look at the man with disdain. He does not look at him with disgust or anger. He looks at him with love -great love, and says, "You are still lacking one thing. Go sell what you have and give it to the poor. Then come and follow me. Only then, will you inherit eternal life."
I imagine after hearing this the disciples begin to panic, because they too wanted to inherit eternal life in heaven, and like most of us, it is probably hard enough for them just to follow the Commandments. This sounds like an impossible teaching. They say that to Jesus. "Lord, then who can get to heaven? Nobody is going to get to heaven." And Jesus responds very clearly, "For man, it is impossible. ...We, of our own accord, cannot get ourselves to heaven. No matter how good we are. No matter what we do. We cannot, of our own accord, get ourselves to heaven. It is impossible."
Then to really get the point across, using the imagery of a camel and needle, Jesus goes on to say matter of factly, "It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." He uses this striking image of the camel and the needle just to demonstrate that it is impossible. You cannot do it. It is hard enough just to get a piece of thread through a needle, right? Now try to imagine trying to get a camel through a needle! He is saying this to show us how difficult it is. Especially for those of us that have money. For those of us that have resources. For those of us that have power, it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Just as the disciples were confused, perplexed, concerned, and kind of in disbelief, we should be that way too. We live in America, right? We live in one of the super powers of the world. Even those of us that consider ourselves to be poor middle class, compared to the rest of the world, we are rich beyond belief. We have so many resources at our fingertips. So how hard is it for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? It is impossible. But not for God.
That is what I love, the sincerity of Jesus and good man that wants to inherit eternal life. He has done everything right his whole life, and says to Jesus, "What am I lacking?" Jesus looks at him, and I love the phrase -- 'with love' -- and He says, "You are still lacking one thing. Sell what you have. Give it to the poor and then come and follow me."
When Jesus says, "Give up everything you have and follow me," He is not saying it to put a burden on us. And He is not saying it to put restrictions on us, or to make our lives horrible. He looks with love because He knows if we give up everything, if we give it all up for Him, we will pass through the eye of the needle. Then we will actually experience and inherit, as He says at the end of the Gospel, whatever we have given up and ten times more. When? In eternal life? No. Right now! On this Earth, we will experience ten times more than anything that we give. Then eternal life is on top of it!
I think that is why Jesus can look at him with great love when he says that, because He knows what He's offering him. He is offering him eternal life. He is offering him that ability to pass through the eye of the needle. He is offering him what seems impossible for man, but is possible for God.
My brothers and sisters, today Jesus is offering the same thing to you! I can look at you with love and say just the same thing. Whatever you have, do not be afraid to give it away. Do not be afraid to give your whole life away in service to God. If you do, you will experience in this life anything that you have given up, ten times fold and the promise of eternal life to come.
We should all have that great courage. We should all have that great spiritual joy of giving things up. And in giving them up for God, it will not lead to a life of poverty, rather it will lead to a life of joy!
Maybe there is something in your life right now that you are too attached to. Or maybe it is just a realization that we do have great resources and need to share those resources more generously with the rest of the world. Whatever it is, just imagine Jesus looking at you with great love. He would never ask you to do anything that is going to hurt you. He is only asking you to give your life to Him. Then you can truly pass through the “eye of the needle” and experience a wonderful life here on this Earth, with the promise of eternal life to come in heaven.