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I originally tried to get an actual, live camel here for this weekend. As it turns out that would’ve been obscenely expensive, which Dennis thought would’ve been too ironic given this month’s focus on simplicity.
So I don’t have a live camel, but I thought I could approximate one to help us visualize the story. I need a few volunteers.
According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, the one-humped dromedary camel is about 7 1/4 feet tall, from the ground to the top of its hump, and about 10 feet long from nose to tail.
In his day and in his part of the world, the camel was the largest animal Jesus could’ve have conceived. Just just hold those dimensions in your mind.
In Mark 10, Jesus and the disciples are a few miles outside the nation’s capital. Jesus has just taught that if anyone wants to enter the Kingdom of God they’ll have to approach the Kingdom as children, as having nothing, as children have nothing.
No sooner are his words out of his mouth than someone with everything approaches Jesus. A rich man. You don’t have everything you want without knowing how to get anything you want. So the rich man tries his hand at flattery: ‘Good Teacher’ he calls Jesus.
And then he asks him a rich man’s kind of question. With everything in this life taken care of- no worries- the rich man asks what he has to do to inherit the next one.
Jesus doesn’t return the rich man’s flattery and responds disinterestedly by giving him the most ordinary answer imaginable.
He recites the 10 Commandments.
But the rich man waves him off: I’ve already done all that. I’m a good person. I’m religious. I don’t lie. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t stolen from my neighbors.
You’re still missing one thing, Jesus says.
Liquidate your 401K. Empty your savings. Put the house on the market. Trade in the car. Sell the season tickets. Forget the beach vacation. Cancel your membership at the club. Everything. Give the cash to the poor.
And then come follow me.
And the rich man says: ‘Yeah, I don’t think so. What do you know? You’re just some homeless guy.’
Then Jesus looks at this one rich man and makes a sweeping generalization about all rich people:
their salvation is impossible.
This same Jesus who promised paradise to the thief
This same Jesus who refused to condemn the adulteress
This same Jesus who compared himself to a shepherd who will go out of his way searching for a single lost lamp
This same Jesus who said God’s love was like an old lady who turned her house upside down looking for a dime
This same Jesus says salvation is impossible for the rich.
The disciples, who’ve grown up believing that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, they ask Jesus: what do you mean it’s impossible?
I mean, it’s about as likely as shoving a fully-loaded 7 x 10 foot camel through the eye of a needle.
Or, as we might say today, when it comes to heaven the rich have a snowball’s chance in hell.
I offer it to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Actually, the story’s maybe not as bad as it sounds.
As the ancient Church Father, Origen, pointed out, the Aramaic word for camel (kamelon) is almost identical to the Aramaic word for nautical cable (kamilon).
It’s just 1 letter difference. It could be as simple as a copyist’s error.
So when Jesus says ‘impossible’ he doesn’t mean camel-through-the-eye-of-a -needle impossible.
He instead means that the rich getting into heaven is more like threading a mariner’s rope through the eye of a needle.
See, that’s more comforting right? Not really?
If nothing else, we can seek solace in the fact that Jesus didn’t say this to everyone.
Jesus didn’t tell his 12 disciples to sell everything and give it to the poor. Sure they dropped fishing nets and left boats behind in the water and walked away from homes and, presumably, families inside them.
But Jesus didn’t tell them they had to or heaven was null and void.
And when a lawyer- who definitely wasn’t poor- asks Jesus this very same question about eternal life, the lawyer doesn’t get an impossible image of a camel squeezing through a needle.
He gets a story about a Good Samaritan.
And the woman at the well, when she asks Jesus about eternal life, Jesus doesn’t tell her ‘Go and give away everything for the poor.’
Jesus tells her ‘Go and sin no more.’
So before you get all worked up about this Gospel passage, just remember that Jesus doesn’t say this to everyone. Jesus doesn’t pull the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle comparison for everyone. He doesn’t say salvation is impossible for everyone.
He just says it to the rich, about the rich.
So as long as we’re not rich, we’re in the clear.
We can love our neighbor as ourself. We can go and sin no more.
We don’t have to worry that our salvation is impossible.
But how do you know?
If you’re rich?
After all, rich people are notoriously adept at deluding themselves.
In study after study, sociologists have shown how rich people seldom think of themselves as rich. Hardly ever.
It’s always the person above them, in front of them, who has and makes more who’s wealthy. Not them.
Rich people rarely think of themselves as rich.
Even if we were rich, chances are we wouldn’t think we were. So how do you know?
A few years ago, Money Magazine surveyed its readers and asked them how much they would need in liquid assets to consider themselves wealthy.
Guess how much? 5 million dollars.
That seems a little high to me.
But here’s the thing-
When it comes to wealth, we don’t need to agree on tax brackets or net worth.
We don’t need to debate exact amounts or dollar figures because we can easily identify a rich based on some very specific behaviors.
Some ‘you might be a rich person if’ behaviors.
Because rich people have so much money they do some crazy, strange things that are easy to point out.
For example, one of the things rich people do is called ‘upgrade.’
Maybe you’ve read about it. It’s when a rich person has something that works, perfectly, and then they go out and get another just like it, only a litter newer.
And then they have 2.
Like I said, we don’t have to agree on net worth because we can I.D. rich people by the crazy things they do they have so much money.
Don’t believe me?
Listen to this:
Rich people will go into a kitchen, a kitchen with countertops, a microwave and an oven, and guess what they’ll do
They’ll rip it all out.
And then…they’ll replace it.
With countertops, a microwave and an oven.
You’re smiling because it’s crazy right?
That’s why we don’t need to agree on how much money makes a person rich because we can identify a rich person based on what they do.
Some rich people I know, they’ll go to the mall and they’ll wait in line outside the Apple Store, and let me tell you rich people hate waiting in line.
But they’ll wait in line at the Apple Store for an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours. And while they wait, they’ll pull out their iPhone and they’ll post on Facebook: ‘At the Apple Store, waiting to get my new iPhone.’
Rich people do such strange things they make themselves obvious.
Something else rich people do- maybe you’ve heard about this before.
They’ll open up a refrigerator filled with food, and they’ll look inside and then they’ll say the craziest thing: ‘There’s nothing to eat.’
I know rich people who will do the same thing in front of their closet.
They’ll stand in front of a closet full of clothes and they’ll say: ‘I’ve got nothing to wear.’
And the truth is, they’ve got work clothes, workout clothes, afterwork clothes and work in the yard clothes.
It’s ridiculous I know.
Don’t say anything, but I know this one rich woman. She’s got like 13, 14 pairs of shoes and she’s always on the lookout for another.
What could you possible do with 14 pairs of shoes? That’s like half of February.
You see, we don’t need to peek inside a person’s portfolio to know if they’re rich. Their behaviors are so easy to spot.
Rich people have so much stuff they’ll gather up stuff they don’t use- it all works fine- and they’ll give it away.
They’ll give it away.
And then, they’ll feel good about themselves for giving away stuff they don’t need in order to create more space in their house so they can go get more stuff.
I’m telling you, rich people do the craziest things.
But it’s not just the crazy things that make a rich person easy to identify.
How many of you know someone who owns a car? Any kind of car?
Only 8% of the world has a car. 92% of the people in the world would look at that person with the car and think ‘rich.’
How many of you know someone who has some way to drink a glass of clean water?
Because 1 billion people in the world would look at that glass of water like it was gold and lick their lips and think ‘rich.’
How much change do you have on you? Right now in your pockets?
Over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. I won’t tell the IRS but congratulations, you’re rich.
How many of you know someone who will eat something today?
Because half a billion kids won’t.
This girl on the back of your bulletin.
I’ve been to her home at least 3 times. Fact is, I can tell you for sure that my garbage disposal eats better than she does.
When surveyed, the readers of Money Magazine said they’d need 5 million dollars in liquid to consider themselves rich.
The truth is- if you have a combined household income of $45,000 you’re in the top 1% of wage earners in the world.
And I know, the way wealth works, you probably don’t think of yourself as rich.
I know, most of you, in this part of the world, in our part of the world, you’re not considered rich. But don’t forget Jesus was a homeless dude and probably wouldn’t find that a very persuasive argument.
It’s a dangerous thing when we think our world is the world.
It’s dangerous because we might read right on past a passage like today’s and not even realize that Jesus just said our salvation is impossible.
The rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and Jesus answers by reciting the 10 Commandments: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet or cheat or dishonor.
Jesus doesn’t rattle off all 10 of the Commandments.
Jesus leaves off the first 2, the 2 most important ones, the 2 of which the other 8 are only subsets:
I am the Lord your God.
You shall worship no other gods but God.
‘I’ve done all that; I’ve kept those commandments’ the rich man says.
And Jesus parries:
There is one more thing- what about the first 2 commandments? How are you with those?
Only Jesus doesn’t phrase it that way.
He asks it in an object lesson instead.
Go sell all your stuff. Put it on Ebay and Craigslist. Auction it off.
Take the money- I don’t want your money- give it to the poor.
Get rid of everything you have so that you just have me.
Get rid of all you treasure and you can have me, your homeless God, as your greatest treasure.
How does that sound?
Mark says the rich man walked away, ‘grieving.’
And that word in Greek (aganakteo) it’s the same exact word that Mark uses to describe another rich, young ruler in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he gives everything away, when Jesus weeps and sweats blood because he’s losing the most precious thing he has: the presence of God the Father.
Mark says the rich man ‘grieves’ thinking about losing his god.
As the rich man walks away, Jesus says ‘Huh, rich people…their salvation is impossible.’
I know enough rich people to know that that rich man- he probably heard that as bad news.
It just goes to show how money can make it hard to hear the Gospel.
Because it’s not bad news.
Let’s be honest, rich people like us- we’re such sinners. Our hearts have so many idols, money is only the primary one. Our values and priorities are so compromised . We’ve hurt so many people in our lives and messed up our own lives in so many ways.
It would take a completely impossible miracle to save rich people like us.
I mean, it would be as likely as a rich man willing making himself poor. Not going to happen.
Our salvation is as unlikely as a King stepping down off his throne to become a slave. What are the odds?
It would be like someone paying an incredible debt that someone else racked up. There comes a price point where no one would ever do that.
It would like an innocent man laying down his life not for his friends or his family or his country but for a guilty man. What are the chances of that happening?
Our salvation IS an impossibility!
It’s like hell freezing over. It’s like pigs flying.
It’s like a dead man coming back from the grave.
It’s like a camel going through the eye of a needle.
Thanks be to God.
The only people who are saved are the ones who realize that their salvation is an impossible miracle.
An act of God.
A gift I don’t deserve and could never purchase.
Something that was bought at great cost but has been freely given…to me.
Once that Gospel transforms your heart, once it becomes your treasure, once it becomes the most precious identity-forming thing in your life, it changes everything.
Once the Gospel transforms your heart, you realize that asking the question ‘How much do I have to give?’ or ‘What percentage do I have to give?’ misses the point completely.
Because it’s not about obligation.
You should want to give all that you can because Jesus Christ gave it all away for you.
Even putting the question that way: ‘How much do I have to give?’ is a good indication that you haven’t experienced the Gospel yet.
You might be a religious person; you’re just not a Christian.
That’s why, for example, it never works out when people say ‘I’ll give more once I make this much money, once I’m at this stage in my career, once the kids are gone, once this bill is paid off.’
Odds are, you won’t.
Because it’s not a money issue. It’s a God issue. It’s a Gospel issue.
Statistically, the more money a person makes the less they give as a percentage of their income.
Because the more stuff you have, one, single gift doesn’t seem quite as important does it? The more provisions you have, the less you need a Provider.
It’s not a money issue. It’s a Gospel issue.
It’s not about asking how much you have to give.
It’s about having your attitude about money- and everything else- shaped by the Cross.
It’s not about percentages or pocket change.
It’s about giving and living sacrificially.
And by definition, giving and living sacrificially means it hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It’s costs something. It’s not easy. It strains you.
Look, full disclosure: you pay my salary.
So if you want to chalk this up to a self-serving, fundraising sermon, fine.
Don’t give your money to the Church.
Give it to Lupe to use in Guatemala.
But give until it hurts.
Give until it hurts because it’s NOT ABOUT MONEY.
Jesus didn’t want the rich man’s money, and God doesn’t want yours.
God wants your heart. He already paid a lot for it.
God wants your heart.
And God wants your heart to be shaped like his.
And if the preaching of Jesus, again and again and again, is any indication:
Nothing competes more for your heart than money.
Nothing competes more for your love of Christ than the pursuit and management of wealth.
Nothing works against you following Christ fully, you maturing in your faith, you surrendering everything you are to Christ, you making yourself available to Christ’s call upon your life- nothing works against you following Christ more than the pursuit and management of a lifestyle.
Nothing competes more for our hearts than money.
So it’s always good to find out where our heart is, whose our heart is.
Now I’m not going to test you like Jesus did and challenge you to sell everything you got and give it away.
Because actually, you can find out where your heart is without all that trouble.
You just have to think about this one question and answer to yourself honestly.
Which reality, if it were true, would cause you greater anxiety, distress and fear:
There is no God. Your sins haven’t been forgiven, but that’s okay because there is no heaven and after you die you won’t be with God or any of your loved ones.
You have no money.
Which reality, if it were true, would cause you greater anxiety, distress and fear: there is no God or you have no money?
Where your answer is, there lies your heart.
* ‘rich’ anecdotes and closing question owed to Andy Stanley.