18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, 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.” Luke 18:18-25
One day as I was walking in Jerusalem I came across a little door. Then suddenly this story came to mind as I realized that I was looking at the eye of a needle. City gates and other entrances had these eyes as a way to let people through after the big gate or door is closed for the night and before it was opened in the morning.
Later in the day I happened to have the chance to ride a camel. Now the story really came to life. I recalled how small the door was as I stood next to the sitting camel.
Then I imagined the group around Jesus as he was talking to the ruler. He was traveling to Jerusalem. All the disciples were with him, as well as a large group of followers. Jesus was telling parables and teaching. I always like to imagine the sights and sounds and smells around. Jesus had a habit of using what was at hand to illustrate his teaching. I imagine them near sundown sitting near the gate. This is the place men gathered to talk and meet. Women are coming to the well to get water. The crowd lingers to catch every word this man has to say. The Pharisees are arguing and debating. Children running and playing. Cooking smells are in the air. Just then a string of camels loaded with goods on the oriental trade route nears. The ruler approaches and asks Jesus his question. As they talk, they're idly watching the camels near the gate. Suddenly Jesus uses them to illustrate his point! How much easier for the camel to go through the eye of the needle than the rich man to sell all he has to follow Jesus! The crowd would have immediately looked at the size of the loaded camels against the familiar eye of the needle of their own city gate. The contrast was so impossible, it cemented the idea of how hard it is to enter the kingdom into their minds.
I know when I saw the door, and then the camel it cemented the story in my mind. And oh how I don't want to be like the rich ruler who couldn't let go of his riches to follow Jesus!