“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
There has probably been more effort expended in various sermons
to explain away this uncomfortable saying of Jesus than for all
the rest of his sayings combined. Pastors do not want their wealthy
parishioners to be too uncomfortable. They depend upon them, after
all, to sustain the parish enterprise. This was just a figure of
speech, wasn’t it? So it’s OK to be rich.
Jesus did not say it was not OK. He just said that it was hard –
hard to do both – to be rich and to participate in God’s
Kingdom. Nor was this the only such saying. “You cannot serve
two masters – God and money.” “Sell what you have
. . . and come follow me.” Etc.
Modern game theory has made clear what has, I guess, always been
pretty obvious – that even in the best of all possible worlds,
one without greed or avarice or laziness, resources will still end
up being unevenly distributed. There will always be rich and poor.
The problem for the rich comes about in several ways. First, simple
care for the resources one controls can occupy all of one’s
time and energy, leaving little time to attend to the work of the
Kingdom. (“You cannot serve two masters . . .”) Second,
the rich are insulated from the problems and suffering around them;
they become blind and deaf. Third, they are inclined to think they
are entitled to enjoy what they have earned as in the story of the
rich man and the beggar at his gate in Luke’s Gospel. And
in many cases, of course, they did work hard for it.
But what they can easily miss is that it is all gift, even their
aptitudes, their drive, their health, their luck – all gifts.
Resources are gifts that we have been given – but for what
purpose? Precisely to be used for others – for their welfare
and benefit – to build them up, to alleviate their pain and
suffering. We do not need to be reminded that it is hard to be poor.
Jesus reminds us that it is hard to be rich, too. It is hard both
ways – for the rich to give without condescension and pride,
and for the poor to receive without resentment.