The Eye of the Needle

21Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  23Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  24And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  25When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?  26But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

At a recent family gathering, the Lord quickened this passage of scripture to me regarding the rich man and the eye of the needle. As I listened to the conversations around me, I was wondering why it is that the unsaved members of my family were so resistant to the Gospel. The Lord spoke into my spirit that it is their riches that keep them out of the kingdom. He was not referring to material wealth in regard to my family and, I believe, if we examine the scripture above carefully, we have to conclude that He wasn’t necessarily referring to material riches in Matthew 19.

The key is in the response of the disciples who “were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?”  The disciples knew that Jesus was making a very radical statement that went beyond the popular truism that material wealth corrupts and that rich people, as we commonly think of them, are attached to their money. As spiritually obtuse as his disciples oftentimes were, in this instance they had a revelation of the fullness of what Jesus was pointing to as the obstacle to attaining Life (zoe) and the kingdom. Had they understood Jesus to be referring to material wealth, their response would have been more along the line of: “Whew! It’s a good thing most folks, like us, are not rich!”

The fact of the matter is that Jesus had some rich followers who were not required to give all their possessions away. Although the rich young ruler in the teaching had evidently made an idol of his material wealth, the disciples understood that Jesus was getting at something more universal and insidious: anything we value more than our relationship with Him or anything that keeps us from moving higher in Him constitutes our riches.  The deepest strongholds are actually not material, but in the mind: intellectual pride, political ideologies, world views, theologies, philosophies, paradigms, religious doctrines of men. These are the riches that keep the unsaved and many Christians from entering into the kingdom. The eye of the needle is like the birth canal from which we emerge stripped of all our riches in the process of being born again – the prerequisite for even seeing the kingdom.  As for entering the kingdom, we need to have an open heart and unfettered mind like the little child who has no intellectual or doctrinal baggage.

An interesting twist to all this is that the scripture quoted above, along with some other sayings of Jesus regarding “the poor” and some verses in James, has been the foundation for the Catholic theology of poverty which glorifies poverty as a means to a closer relationship to God.  (The exceptions, of course, were the popes and bishops, who had the obligation of manifesting and surrounding themselves with the wealth of the “kingdom”).  Unfortunately, the Holiness/Pentecostal movement adopted the theology of poverty by teaching that poverty was God’s way of keeping us humble and protecting us from worldliness.  In the Pentecostal theology of poverty, everything connected with prosperity becomes suspect.

This development is an ironic twist and a clever ploy of the enemy because the very theologies of poverty – based as they are on a limited and superficial understanding of the teachings of Jesus - become an example of the “riches” that keep Christians from entering into the kingdom or even understanding what or where the kingdom is.  Instead of ministering an entrance into the kingdom of God, these theologies, for Protestants and Catholics alike, keep our focus on outward things.  Ultimately, they block entrance into the kingdom of God by becoming an obstacle to understanding the fullness of the mind of Christ.