Eye of the Needle

Written by Sr. Rosemary O.P.

The story is told of a visitor who had just arrived at a monastery where he was going to stay for a retreat.  The monk showed this visitor to his room and very hospitably said:  “You’re very welcome here and we hope you enjoy your stay.  If there’s anything you need, just let us know and we’ll show you how to live without it.”   What a great way to express what we need and don’t need.  No doubt he was surprised and squirmed a bit!

I would imagine that person’s reaction was much like the response the apostles must have had in our gospel story today.  When they heard Jesus’ teaching about the difficulty of being rich and entering the kingdom of God, and about giving up everything to follow him, they must have squirmed.  Plus, they had just heard Jesus ask a rich young man to sell his possessions and give to the poor…which was the gospel we heard yesterday. 

When Jesus said:  ‘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’, it was a hard saying for the disciples to grasp.  Wealth was considered to be a sign of God’s favor.  So if the rich young man could not enter the kingdom, who could?

Tradition tells us that the ‘eye of the needle’ was a small, narrow gate into the city of Jerusalem.  In order for camels to make it through that gate, they would have to lower themselves to get through.  They would also have to be rid of any excess baggage that would get in their way.  To the rich young man and the disciples, Jesus was asking them to trust in God, not anything else, for entrance into his kingdom.

We all tend to cling to different types of ‘riches’ that hinder us from receiving God’s life fully.  Material wealth is one example because it could make us rely on something other than God, and can blind us to our need for God.  Other ‘riches’ that may hinder us spiritually may be a bad habit, or a mental attitude, or prejudices against certain people. Today we celebrate St. Pope Pius X.  When he died and his will was read, there was only one sentence:  “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.”

In answer to Peter’s question:  “Who then can be saved?” we already know.  God shows no partiality; God offers salvation to everyone.

Maybe we can learn something from that camel.  If we want to enter eternal life,

  • we need to lower ourselves on our knees in prayer and humility.
  • We need to get rid of whatever baggage is hindering our spiritual growth. 
  • And we need to follow the Master through the gate to the other side with lots of faith and trust.