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Camel and the Eye of a Needle

Camel and the Eye of a Needle

The aptly named Bob Diamond, Barclays Boss and the UK’s best-paid top banker, was recently asked why he thought it was so hard for a rich banker to enter the kingdom of heaven. According to Robert Peston, Business Editor for the BBC, in his excellent blog, Peston’s Picks – http://bbc.co.uk/robertpeston – the Treasury Select Committee versus Bob Diamond was gripping theatre. According to Peston the best moment was when Diamond was asked by the Labour MP John Mann why he thought it was so hard for a rich banker to enter the kingdom of heaven. Diamond ducked out of giving a direct answer to the question by saying that he was still stuck on why it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich banker to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The reference, of course, is to a saying of Jesus recorded in the synoptic gospels: Truly I tell you, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven … it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Parallel versions of this saying appear in Matthew 19 :23,24; Mark 10:24,25, and Luke 18:24,25. The saying was a response to a rich man who had asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied that he should keep the commandments, to which the man stated he had done. Jesus responded, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ The rich man, we are told ‘went away sad, because he had great wealth’. He was unwilling to do what Jesus suggested … an attitude that elicited this response from Jesus about rich people and camels, a response that left his disciples astonished.

What on earth did Jesus mean by this saying? Actually, it is not that difficult a saying to understand … so here for Bob Diamond, and anyone else for that matter, is the explanation. The reference was not to a literal ‘eye of a needle’ but to the needle gate of an ancient middle-eastern city, so called because it was shaped like the eye of a needle. After dusk, when the main gates of the city were closed, the only entrance was through the much smaller needle gate that could be easily guarded. Thus, a rich merchant with a loaded camel, arriving at the needle gate after dusk would be forced to unload his camel in order to gain access to the city via the needle gate. It was this teaching that astonished the disciples – not the impossibility of getting a camel through the literal eye of a needle – but the fact that in order to gain access into the kingdom of God or heaven it is necessary for rich people to unload! This is not to say that one cannot be a good person, or even a Christian, and be rich at the same time. It is all about seeing that any riches we may have must not be used purely selfishly – hoarded away like the Foolish Farmer in another of Jesus’ stories – but used for the good of others and the glory of God.
Jim Binney


  1. I sometimes wonder whether we skip over this text saying 'I'm not rich so it doesn't apply to me' when it does mean all of us. Certainly if we enjoy a reasonable standard of living in the UK we are, in world wide terms, rich but I think there is a bit more to it than that. Jesus used this example because he was talking to a rich man but don't we all carry baggage that we need to 'unload' to enter the kingdom of heaven? At an extreme this could be someone poor eaten up by envy of the rich.


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