The readings we have today can seem quite harsh.
We have Amos, basically warning the people of Israel they are to become exiled and live in houses that they have not built and they will not drink the wine from the vineyards they have planted because of their sins.
Amos talks quite a bit about the gate and what had been said there. The gate at that time was where all the men would gather in the evening to discuss the events of the day, but also to listen to the elders reading the laws and statues. It was where decisions were made and where support should have been given to those in need and this is why God through Amos was angry with the people. The poor had been talked about and discussed, but no help was offered to them, in fact, people had taken bribes and pushed the needy away.
Amos was attempting to spare the people and convince them to seek God because, “God’s desire is for people to work actively together for a healthy society.” (Working Preacher.org)
In a way the thought of people gathering at a gate to discuss the day’s events, reminds me a little of my time growing up in Simister. At the time it was much smaller population, there was no Mount Pleasant, Simister Green, Farm Lane, Wilton Court and the new houses on Simister Lane where not there and of course, no motorway.
As children we felt quite safe, because everyone knew each other the only problem was that if we did anything mischievous you could guarantee it would get back to our parents, probably before us! either that or we would get told off there and then. I do remember one event…… but I think I’ll leave that out!
Of course, the meeting places in the village were the two pubs (where the men met), the Post Office, shops and hairdressers (where the women met) so the children had no chance, any misdemeanours were definitely discussed! And help was offered to anyone who needed it.
So it doesn’t surprise me that the people of Israel were closely observed by God and the prophets.
In Hebrews, we have yet another warning to the people about how their thoughts and intentions are laid bare before God, but on the positive side, we have a high priest (Jesus Christ), who is able to understand human weaknesses and through who we can approach God to ask for forgiveness.
A forgiveness that he gives out willingly to all who trust and turn to him, “so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
And then in the Gospel, we have Jesus who turns the people’s cultural expectations upside down. For in the previous Chapter and in the beginning of today’s chapter Jesus has welcomed children (the little ones), an exorciser who was casting out evil spirits, “Do not stop him;” says Jesus, “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” and, of course, Jesus has stood up for the rights of women in divorce.
So, when he tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God the disciples were shocked and blurted out, “Then who can be saved?”
During Jesus’ time, culture saw people who were rich as blessed by God so for Jesus to say they would find it hard to enter the Kingdom of Heaven was against all their understanding. However, he softens the shock to the disciples, when they ask who can be saved by saying; “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
When I first heard the reading from Mark, a long time ago I must add and as someone who likes needlework, I couldn’t get past what Jesus had said about the camel. As a child, I didn’t understand it and felt embarrassed to ask, “What on earth was Jesus talking about?”
I have read a few different explanations as to what Jesus meant.
One was that the eye of the needle was a gate in the walls of Jerusalem, which was opened at night after the main gates had been shut. However, it was so narrow that to get a camel through all the luggage/baggage and saddle would have to be removed and the camel would have to lower its head to get in. Ah, now that seemed reasonable explanation, but on further research, I found out there is no historical evidence of a small gate, at that time!
The second explanation I found was with regards to the translation of the Hebrew into Greek. In Greek camel is kameolon and the Aramaic word for camel is gamla, which can also mean both rope and camel and of course Jesus was speaking in Aramaic.
Of course, in ancient time a needle would have been quite large and made of wood, usually oak through which a cord or rope could have been thread. Cords were often used to hang over the neck of camels, but when the cord was passed through the eye of the needle, some of the fibres would come off.
Here is a good metaphor I could go with, which does have a credible explanation; that for the rich young man to enter the Kingdom of God he would have to shed some of his possessions in the same way the fibres came off the cord.
This was something the young man could not come to terms with as he had many possessions. For, to become a follower of Jesus then meant giving up a lot. Jesus himself wandered from place to place, possessions were a burden. He had no home and no place to lay his head.
As someone who has begun to de-clutter (not valuable items I’m afraid, just sentimental) I can understand the reluctance the young man must have felt, but Jesus I feel is not just speaking about practical possessions.
As Christians today we face many demands on our time, skills and abilities. As a church, we are generous to those charities we support and to one another.
However, and there is always a however, do we as individuals give time and space for God to speak to us?
Do we de-clutter our minds to seek God, and make time for him?
Do we pray as often as we should?
Do we help those who are not our immediate neighbours?
Let us pray:
God of love and mercy,
We thank you for all that we have and take for granted,
turn our hearts and minds to your ways;
and give us peace.
Reader @ St. Margaret’s & St. George’s