The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”— Mark 10:24-26
Twice in recent months I’ve had clients use this story in their work. Only one of them got it right.
The other repeated a fable people like to tell: that when Jesus spoke of a camel going through the eye of a needle, he wasn’t speaking of a sewing needle. He was, the story goes, speaking of a gate in Jerusalem called the Needle Gate, which presumably was very small. A hypothetical camel could only go through this supposed gate if it were stripped of its burdens and got down on its knees.
A nice sermon illustration—I’ve even heard a pastor use it.
But it’s bunk.
The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary of the Bible calls it “a pious explanation…unfounded in fact.” The “eye of a needle” means “Needle Gate” hypothesis was not floated until the middle ages. The only gates in Jerusalem labeled “Eye of the Needle” received that moniker after tourists started showing up asking, “Where is the Needle Gate?”
Go on, search your Bible for references to this Needle Gate. You won’t find it. Because it didn’t exist. Jesus isn’t talking about some hypothetical gate. He is really talking about a needle.
Remember, Jesus is prone to hyperbole. This is the guy to told you to gouge your eye out if it offends you. Who told you to get the log out of your own eye before picking on someone else.
So it is not unreasonable to assume that when he said “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,” he was using hyperbole to describe something that is impossible.
We don’t like that. We don’t like it because if we have any shred of self-awareness, we understand that compared to 99.9 percent of the world’s population, we are rich. So we try to explain it away. He didn’t mean impossible. He just meant really difficult.
No. He meant impossible.
Look at the disciples’ reaction. They’re amazed. “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
With man this is impossible. Impossible. As impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle. Not difficult. Not manageable with a bit of sacrifice.
The point of this lesson Jesus teaches is not that we can earn admission to the kingdom of heaven if we make enough sacrifices. The point is not that we can buy our way into the kingdom if we just give a bunch of money to charity.
The point is that nothing we do will get us into the kingdom. Only God can do that, and he will if we let him.
Because he specializes in doing the impossible.