Sunday, February 20, 2011

"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" (Matthew 19:24). This is not, I suspect, the most popular of Jesus Christ's teachings, but recent studies from the Harvard Business School have provided empirical evidence suggesting that the Lord knew what he was talking about.

Harvard professors Roy Y. J. Chua and Xi Zou conducted a study in which 87 undergraduates were shown pictures of shoes and watches before being asked to make hypothetical business decisions. Half of the students were shown simple, functional items; the other half viewed high end luxury goods. Those who viewed luxury goods--items which almost invariably surround the wealthy---were significantly more likely to make immoral business decisions in pursuit of personal profit and at the expense of others: "They were more inclined to OK the production of a car that would pollute the environment, the release of bug-riddled software, and the marketing of a videogame that would prompt kids to bash each other," explains David Bereby. Chua and Zou concluded that "exposure to luxury led people to think more about themselves than others," which is a problem for anyone seeking after the kingdom of God, since the Lord told his disciples quite plainly to "take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. . . . But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Luke 12:22, 31). 


The kingdom of God is reserved, rather paradoxically, for those who imitate Christ by ignoring their own interests and seeking to promote the welfare of others--and it turns out that wealth (or even the signs and tokens of wealth!) inverts/perverts this ideal by nudging us to act selfishly and ignore the welfare of others. If we are truly committed to seeking the kingdom of God, we ought to recognize that wealth and luxury are burdens hindering our progress toward that destination, as Christ taught in the Gospel of Thomas: 


In that pseudepigraphal gospel, Jesus proclaims "If you have money, do not lend it at interest. Rather, give it to someone from whom you will not get it back" (verse 95). The function of money, Christ teaches, is not to create wealth but to uplift a neighbor. This point is driven home only two verses later by a brief "The kingdom is like..." parable: 


 "Jesus said, 'The Father's kingdom is like a woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking along a distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her along the road. She did not know it; she had not noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty" (97). 


 The point of this parable is simple. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a journey; you and I are on a journey back to the kingdom of God. The jar of meal is our earthly possessions and--remembering that Christ's condemnation immediately precedes this parable--our money. The meal is largely immaterial, as far as this journey is concerned; carrying it won't help the woman (or us) get home, and getting rid of it is not a "problem." Indeed, this claim that disbursing the meal isn't a problem seems rather ironic since the woman undoubtedly walked faster without a load of meal burdening her. The real problem would be if the woman was so concerned with preserving and increasing the quantity of meal that she settled down and planted a field instead of hurrying home.


Quite obviously, money is a necessary aspect of our earthly existence in this dispensation. But just as obviously, it has little or nothing to do with the ultimate purpose of our lives: to return to the kingdom of God. So donate your Prada before you confuse distracting dollar-signs with your ultimate destination; better to imitate John the Baptist and clothe yourself in camel hair than wind up trying to squeeze a bloated, camel-sized bank account through the eye of a needle and into the kingdom of God. 

4 comments:

Jo Jo said...

I needed a Sunday thought this morning! Thanks. I always tell my boys, when they're fighting over someTHING, that it's not the thing that goes to heaven but their brother. Which is more important to treasure?

Jenny said...

Hey! That was AMY! commenting...
Hooray!
And GOOD post, Zach.
xo

The Renaissance Man said...

nice @_@

Anonymous said...

Did you know the needle was actually the small gate that led into the city and the camel would have to kneel to squeeze himself through? Interesting symbolism...

Your Good Friend P.S.