The Bible tells us a story of a powerful, rich, young man who asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The man said he had already done all of that. Unwittingly, he pushed through the veil of performance and legalism into the heart of God’s greatest love for him.
“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” Jesus said.
Jesus told the man he lacked treasure in heaven. Was Jesus was trying to invent an ancient kind of Craigslist? Did he already know how getting rid of the burden of our stuff could really spark joy? Probably not. Probably Jesus was looking in the face of a man who had everything his culture told him could save him. He was young and strong. He had money and influence. He was even good at following the rules.
Jesus and the young man had one thing in common: they both knew it wasn’t enough.
After his encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus told the disciples it would be easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. We have heard this camel and needle idiom too many times. It is meaningless to us because, unlike people of the ancient middle east, we have never tried to pass a camel through anything: not a gate, a door, or a cave of some kind. We have never held a needle up to a camel and imagined cramming a camel through it. Many of us have never even tried to thread a needle at all.
Camels and needles are foreign and unrelatable to us.
I know I am a woman of privilege, and this story is meant for me. But I was confused by the camels and needles. I wanted to know how impossible my salvation was apart from Jesus. God gave me a better idiom as I read this story. He reminded me of the summers of my youth, in 1980s California, when tan skin was the goal of every girl I knew. I would lay myself out on a towel and try to “build up” a tan. Everyone told me this would work. I didn’t have to be so pale! I could turn golden brown if I would only do fifteen minutes a day. My freckles would eventually merge into one grand golden tan.
Alas, I learned the hard way that it was impossible to save myself from my pasty white exterior. The Scotch Irish genes are strong in this body of mine. I was made for cloudy, northern climates, where the sun disappears for months at a time and the rain keeps people indoors the other months.
Salvation was as likely for me as achieving a beautiful California girl tan. It is as possible for me to inherit eternal life as it is for me to turn deep, dark brown and finally look really good in the color yellow. #imaspring
Privilege is good for many things in the world’s kingdom: it keeps us comfortable, powerful, and often quite happy. Privilege is a real picnic in the park until we realize, as that rich young man realized, that our privileges will not come with us when we pass out of this life and into the next.
In God’s Kingdom, privilege is only good for one thing: to lose it so someone else can benefit from its earthly value.
Matthew 6 talks a lot about the heavenly treasure our rich young friend lacked. Jesus told us in Matthew 6 that wherever our treasure is, our heart will be, too. I hope you see that God’s love, his greatest treasure, is in you because his heart has always been right in the middle of who you are. You are his most priceless possession, your life is the greatest joy that he has ever known. Your own generosity and sacrifice toward people God loves will cause your heart to be passed out in pieces just as his heart has been. It will cost you, and you must be vigilant and wise as you follow Jesus: watch your heart for sin and idolatry. Seek justice and mercy. Don’t ignore the way systems steeped in privilege create marginalization. Don’t sacrifice rest and sabbath thinking that more is always better in life, and then burn out. Don’t let your heart believe that your sacrifice has saved you. Remember that you could never pass a camel through a needle or help a melanin-poor girl find her best Hawaiian Tropics tan.
God can, though. In fact, he has promised that he will do all kinds of miracles.
You are just one person; one privileged person who wants eternal life more than anything this life can offer you. It is a loaves-and-fishes life in Jesus, a sell-everything-and-give-it-away, a love-others-more-than-yourself, take-up-your-mat-and-walk-kind-of-life. The miracle humans can do is being generous with all the things the world says we should hoard as if our lives depended on it.
The rich young man went away sad when Jesus told him to sell everything because he had a lot of possessions. But the Bible doesn’t say he didn’t do it. Tossing our privilege may take some time and some intentional work.
Maybe the camel isn’t going through the needle today, but maybe the camel isn’t the point. I will take my daughter to the pool a hundred times this summer, and I will sit under an umbrella slathering on my SPF 100 every time, but maybe the shade of my skin isn’t the point either. Maybe the point is that I need to hold the impossibility of God’s promise and the brokenness of this world in my hands as I run after Jesus.
We are all in need of a great deal of redemption and rescue. I’m here in front of Jesus today asking him to help me give away all I have so I can find all I lack. Who knew that open hands would feel better than any privilege we could ever hold?
Actually, given all the teachings of Jesus, I suppose he knew that all along, and I’m just now catching up.