Squeezing camels through a tiny opening

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

camelneedleSo, my question is, why are we spending most of our time and resources to reach the people Jesus said would have a harder time entering the kingdom than squeezing a humpbacked, ruminant quadruped through a tiny opening?

I claim no expertise on camels, but I know that, like rich people, they don’t fit nicely through needles’ eyes. Whether we’re talking about the kind of needle that you use to sew up your ripped jeans or a gate in the Jerusalem wall called, “The Needle Gate.” Either way a camel is simply too big to be shoved through there, especially with all that extra bulk he carries on his back!

The thing that makes Jesus’ hyperbole that much more hyperboleous (the first of many such “Wigetisms” in this post) is the fact that these mammals of the open desert can survive long periods without food or drink because they carry surplus resources saved up in their humps. They’re already too big for narrow openings, but consider that awkward bump on the back, and the metaphor just gets silly. It takes no graduate degree in Zoology to reason that the bigger the hump the more difficult it would be to squeeze through a needle’s eye!

From a cursory scan of Wikipedia I learned that there are different classes of camels which hail from different locales, ones born with two protuberances and the less privileged that inherit a mere one. Like exceptionally wealthy folks, two-humpers lug around even more “savings” than their one-hump counterparts. I can’t say that I’ve ever offered a camel a drink, let alone tried to shove one through a too-small opening, but my guess is that if he already has one or two hump-fulls he’s not going to be terribly thirsty for more. Thus the intended comparison between a camel and a person of means. (Keep in mind that it was Jesus and not me that first correlated the two.)

On the other hand, most of the seven billion people on our planet came into this world humpless. Not only so, but skinny and concave. They carry no reserves with which to replenish themselves during lean days, months, or years. For millions, everyday is a lean day. When they hear that there’s plenty of living water available, they’re on it. What do they have to lose? Without excess girth they fit nicely through any-sized needle’s eye. It’s no mystery that the gospel is spreading the most rapidly in the planet’s poorest places where their stock portfolio isn’t too fat to fit through the narrow gate.

So, I ask again, why do we spend most of our time, energy, and money trying to shove camels with the biggest humps through the needle’s eye when there are people “small enough” to slip through with room to spare? In our churches, we employ half the congregation to push and the other half to pull that one lone two-humper through the narrow gate.

What do we do when we can’t quite get a plump person through the narrow gate? First, we settle for getting part of him through. He doesn’t have to give it all to Jesus, just the parts with which he’s willing to part. Another strategy is to enlarge the opening of the gate. We tweak the message to accommodate those unwilling to unload their cargo to get in. Neither if these are advisable. Neither actually gets people into the same kingdom that Jesus died to rule.

It’s not that Jesus’ love was confined to the poor or that the wealthy were off his radar. In fact, one of the few times we’re told specifically that he did “love” a particular individual (besides John the Beloved) it’s a rich young ruler as he was walking away sad because he was unwilling to unpack his hump. Plus, at least one of his twelve disciples (Matthew) was a person of means – a person of ill-gotten means notwithstanding. The application of his camel metaphor had nothing to do with the availability of God’s love. It was about the relative inaccessibility of the heart of the rich.

Jesus wasn’t dissing the rich in the passages above. He was simply trying to help us prioritize the use of our resources. It only makes sense to devote more time, money, and effort on inviting people most likely to come to your party. Why should we knock our heads against the wall begging the least likely to be interested in our simple gospel when there are people whose life situation could make them more naturally disposed toward it?

“Yeah, but we should broadcast the message to all the world!”

That’s right, but are we actually doing that in most of our churches and outreaches? Think about the last year in your church’s efforts to reach pre-christians with programs and evangelistic efforts. How much time and money was spent? How many church member man-hours were used up in showing and telling the good news? How many people did those things actually bring into the kingdom and into the church? What percentage of those efforts was spent on lower-middle class to upper class people? Hmmm.

If for no other reason, wouldn’t it be better stewardship if we targeted the poor? I’m not recommending that we entirely neglect the rich. In fact, if you’re middle class you most likely work with other middle class people and live in a middle class neighborhood. So, share your faith with those who are in your most convenient sphere of influence. Give them a Bible for Christmas and invite them to church. Love your neighbors, the poor ones and the rich ones. What I’m saying is you and your church should get outside your neighborhood (if that’s what it takes) and join God’s friendship quest among the humpless. Target people who don’t need to have their excess baggage surgically removed in order to fit through the narrow gate!

Well, what do you think about this? Tell me if you think I’m wrong(ish). I can handle some pushback, especially if you’re nice about it!

You might also be interested in one or more of these posts on similar themes:

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