In the last couple of days, I have come into a new appreciation for the story of the Rich Young Man (found in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18). Many of us who are familiar with this story have often heard it equated to a love for money and sacrifice for the Kingdom of God—which I am not denying. But, as I read it a few days ago for probably the 100th time, I gathered something else from the words of Jesus to this curious man.
The man wanted to know what he must do to inherit an eternity with God. Apparently, he was a man who obeyed the Law and also possessed great wealth. This is important to the story because riches in that day were thought to be an indicator of God’s favor. Wealth was said to be an index of a person’s spiritual state. Therefore, the man had probably until this time bore his wealth quite proudly as an assurance of his salvation. And then came the unexpected announcement of Christ: Sell it. It’s worthless. It’s not what I’m looking for.
In fact, Jesus went so far as to say that a camel could more easily pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter his Kingdom.
There is much debate about this analogy, but I find it quite interesting that the “Eye of the Needle” was also a phrase used to describe a small entrance in large gates for passengers on foot. The large gates were opened only for pack-bearing animals (i.e. camels carrying a large load). For one of these animals to even have a hope of fitting through this small, single-person entrance, it would have to remove all of its packs.
The Rich Young Man had loaded his life with his own idea of “spiritual indicators.” He was like a camel, bearing his hefty load with pride. Much like him, we often stack our backs high with good deeds, the “right” words, and dutiful devotion times—packing for our self-navigated trip into the Kingdom of Heaven. We compose man-made indications of our spiritual relationship to God, and we follow them like a script. We put on our suits and ties and our best Sunday dress, we set our timer and pray until it dings, memorize our bible verses, and promise to save one more soul. With our checklist, we dutifully pack our bags for eternity.
And then God says, “Unload the camel.”
It’s not the way in. The loads we attempt to bear are often endured in vain, and to get through the eye of that needle, we have to let it all go.
I am not discounting the relevance of spiritual discipline, nor the importance of intentional sacrifice for the Kingdom. But I have to wonder at times if we have mistaken these things as a means to an end. When we unpack our camels, what is left? What are we without the things we do? To be more clear, what is in our hearts? What is our heart’s attitude towards God? What is our heart's attitude towards the ones we love... and even those we don't?
Do we love from the deepest corners of our heart... or do we spend our time looking for more self-serving novelties to pack away in the luggage of our soul?
God has really challenged me to unload my camel and examine my heart underneath. More than anything else, I want my heart to be pure before Him. And even if it means stripping my devotion to everything else, I want to be able to fit through that door.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)