Bishop James Jones on the Rich Man, the Camel and the Eye of a Needle

…when Jesus compared the rich man with a camel he wasn’t putting him down. On the contrary he was smiling on him. The comparison’s a compliment, not an insult.

Of course the question still packed a punch for the rich man. But what it showed was a prosecutor free of envy. And in the current crisis it’s the skills of the wealth creators that are vital to the nation’s recovery. According to Jesus the way to get heaven down to earth is for the wealthy to make their money work in the service of others. Which in our current crisis could be through investment or taxation. You see, just like the camel carried other people’s burdens, nourished others with its milk and gave warmth through the fuel of its dung so God looks to the wealthy to protect the weak. Failure to do so makes heaven on earth an impossibility, not just for the rich but for us all.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Economics, Politics, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

25 comments on “Bishop James Jones on the Rich Man, the Camel and the Eye of a Needle

  1. DonGander says:

    “According to Jesus the way to get heaven down to earth…”

    I thought this idea died with WWI! What contortions in reading does it take for Scripture to say that we bring Heaven on Earth? Heaven is in ones heart. We live in this place as aliens. Life is not fair – if it were fair then Jesus would NOT have been the one on the cross. We follow Him in grace and attempt fairness in an unfair world.

    “…as we forgive…”


  2. Old Guy says:

    Are you kidding? The disciples did not take it as praise for the rich man. Matt 19:25. “The disciples were astounded. ‘Then who in the world be saved?’ they said.” Who certified Mr. Jones as qualified to be a Christian Bishop?!

  3. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    Bishop Jones does not address the issue of passing through the eye of the needle, which is the point of the parable, however estimable the camel or indeed the rich man, although we learn from him some of the uses to which camel dung may be put.

    Like the demented Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’, Bishop Jones left us behind a long time ago.

  4. MarkP says:

    I would have said not “it’s a compliment rather than an insult” but “it’s good news, not bad news.” The rich man’s hope lies in two things: 1) “with God, all things are possible” and 2) he knows the problem now, when the camel and the eye of the needle are still a ways off. Like the rich man in the Dives and Lazarus story, the rich man can choose to act with compassion and change his destiny (or do I mean his destination?). The implication is that that will involve spending some of his wealth (else why is rich Dives singled out for criticism?). Improving the lot of Lazarus may or may not constitute “bringing heaven down to earth”, but there’s no doubt Jesus thought it would be a good thing. That Jesus died on the cross is indeed evidence that life’s unfair, but surely it doesn’t mean Jesus thought it a matter of indifference that innocent people die on the cross. Compassion was at the heart of the way Jesus acted during his ministry, and if imitating Jesus is at the heart of our calling then compassion will be central for us as well. And compassion surely wants something that will make life better for people.

  5. Old Guy says:

    I think there is a more fundamental point here, then explanation of Scripture. I guess I am more bothered by the fact that Mr. Jones did not bother to check the Bible than he does not know it. I think he made a mistake that no self-respecting atheist would have made–definitely not in public speech or writing. And the mistake is so gross, it raises systemic issues. Any group that gives its leaders power and wealth without accountability is doomed. If Presiding Bishops and Archbishops are not accountable for what happens publicly in their churches, no matter how gross or outrageous the mistake, why have them? And that does not mean only punishment, it means correction. While the ultimate accountability is to God, certainly, in this world, we need to be a little wiser. Maybe this has been the problem of Anglicanism for a very long time. Would it be better, for the entire communion, to have each bishop answerable to their diocese (members voting with their feet if nothing else), and the bishops joining with like-minded Bishops to address broader issues. You can say that shatters unity, but unity without accountability is only a facade.

  6. JustOneVoice says:

    One thing I find interesting is that there are many passages, such as this one, that say the rich have special challenges (to say the least) getting into Heaven. Since this is the case, why don’t churches have more programs to reach the rich?

  7. francis says:

    Definitely a creative segue…

  8. driver8 says:

    #1 Because Jesus’ teaching is full of parables about how we bring heaven on earth.

    Three points:

    1. Isn’t the camel an unclean animal (Lev 11.4)
    2. Jesus uses precisely this – the recognition that the camel is an unclean animal – to criticize the Pharisees (Matt 23.24)
    3. It’s worth thinking whether Jesus is again using the camel to criticize in the saying about the rich.

  9. francis says:

    *8* Jesus does not compare Pharisees to camels. He values the camels. The good Bishop strays from the simile that just as it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of an needle, it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. Without a transformation it is not possible. God can do transformation, however.

  10. kmh1 says:

    Jones used to be known as an evangelical, and would have been many people’s preference to Rowan Williams. He was never by any stretch of the imagination an intellectual, but a school teacher turned radio producer before ordination, with a penchant for self-publicity. Now he has thrown in his lot with gay liberation and makes up his “theology” as he goes along – the worst example of Protestant “private judgment”.

  11. Ad Orientem says:

    The “eye of a needle” refers to very small and narrow portals in the walls of the city of Jerusalem which were used to enter and leave the city when the main gates were closed. This is one of the most frequently misread passages in Scripture. The point was not that it is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven. But rather that it is much more difficult.

    Really, for someone who is a bishop this is a pretty embarrassing piece.

  12. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #11 That is interesting. Thank you.

  13. Tim Harris says:

    #11 The idea that the ‘eye of the needle’ was a small gate in Jerusalem is a popular but misplaced notion. It is based on medieval imagination and cannot be traced back any further than the C12th or so. It has no basis in ancient historical evidence.

    While I am as much disappointed in +Jones as anyone, I think the comments are being unduly hard on him here. We need to make allowances for the context of his brief opinion piece (a BBC ‘Thought for the Day’), very much at a popular level. His reference to the camels and reflections on some of the cultural associations are of passing interest, but he is hardly claiming to present a complete or detailed exegesis. His main point is elsewhere, and it strikes me he makes some valid observations.

  14. Ad Orientem says:

    Re # 13
    I was unaware of the controversy surrounding the interpretation I presented in #11. While I have by no means had an opportunity to investigate the matter exhaustively; a cursory online search of my favorite sources does tend to support your point. The few that I found supporting the gate interpretation come from sources I view as being of doubtful authority.

    I need to look into this some more. But for now I yield to your #13.

  15. driver8 says:

    #13 I don’t think incompleteness is the issue. Rather it’s the suggestion that Jesus is complimenting the rich man. The disciples’ shocked response becomes inexplicable on this account.

    Nevertheless I don’t think the Bishop’s comments are embarrassing or that in itself it’s evidence of some deep theological failing. He is trying to speak about Scripture in a slot that lasts three or four minutes in a way that is immediately engaging. I think he might have done it in a way that is a slightly more in harmony with the tone of the passage he selected but the point he [i]really[/i] wants to make (concerning the significance of wealth creation and use) is IMO an excellent one.

  16. Br. Michael says:

    14, if you check the lexicons the world referring to a “needle” is in fact a sewing needle. Jesus point is that only grace allows a person to enter the kingdom of God. The idea that a needle is a small gate which one may navigate using one’s own perseverance is completely at odds with what Jesus was trying to say.

    And the disciples do get it when they reply:
    Matthew 19:24-26 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” [b]25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”[/b]

  17. Clueless says:

    My understanding is that the “eye of the needle” gate in Jerusalem was that camels could, and did go through this gate. Only they had to be unloaded first, or they would not fit. The rich man would also need to be unburdened of his riches before he went through.

  18. Br. Michael says:

    17, maybe, but that is not supported by the text. To all: Is there any exegesis and actual historical data that would support the idea that there was a “needle gate”?

    I too have heard that explanation, but I no longer think it is correct. Jesus” point is that you can’t work your way into the Kingdom. Now it is also true that this young man had a serious problem that kept him out of the Kingdom–money. But the cure was transformation; a gift from God that would enable him to divest himself of that which separated him from God.

  19. J. Champlin says:

    Part of the problem the good Bishop has is that he didn’t get to choose his text. It was chosen for him by the sophomoric challenge made at the Treasury Select Committee. Of course, he could have countered with some well chosen texts from, say, I Timothy (6:17 ff) which illustrate exactly the point he is making; alas, he chose the route of attempting to salvage the “eye of the needle”, leaving himself open to pointed comments regarding his exegesis. Oh well, who quotes the pastorals anymore? #11, thanks for putting that well-worn gloss on the text to bed.

  20. Ross says:

    I’ve always felt a little sorry for the rich young man — he’s routinely held up in homilies and exegesis as someone who lets his love of material possessions blind him to what’s truly important.

    But the choice that Jesus poses to him is a harsh one — to give up ALL of his possessions; to become himself penniless, homeless, and destitute. Jesus doesn’t tell him to tithe, or to live within modest means — Jesus tells him to give every last penny of it away and follow him.

    That’s not a choice most of us are prepared to face.

  21. Br. Michael says:

    20, and that’s not our problem. It was the rich young mans. Now we may have the same or other problems, but the rich young man asked a specific question and got a specific answer. His riches were his barrier. To others riches may not be a barrier.

  22. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #20 I have always taken it that Jesus may be asking the rich young man not just to become a tithing follower, but to give up everything and follow him as an apostle just as the other apostles did – quite a calling, had he risen to the occasion.

  23. Br. Michael says:

    But yes, is not the kingdom worth giving up everything in this world? The answer is “Yes” and the rich man said “No”. And the Gospel records Jesus sorrow at the young man’s response.

  24. Ross says:

    But the rich young man was not given a middle option, “Give up stuff you don’t really need, tithe, live simply” — which is what most Christian moralists recommend. He was given a stark either/or — EITHER become a penniless follower of Jesus, dependent for his daily bread upon the generosity of others… OR be denied the Kingdom.

    How many of us make that choice? Not many.

    Br. Michael suggests that this “rich young man” had a personal and individual problem with material goods, and so when he asked Jesus what he must do, Jesus told him, “FOR YOU in particular, the answer is to give up all your possessions.” But when the disciples are shocked at this, Jesus replies in generalities about how difficult ANY rich man will find it to enter the Kingdom… so I’m not sure that holds up.

    I’ve always found this a difficult passage.

  25. DonGander says:

    I have read with interest the comments on the rich young ruler and though out of my league I would suggest that all of you compare this parable to some other statements of Jesus that I believe say essentially the same thing:
    Luk 14:26 If any [man] come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    Luk 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    Do you see the relationship that God sees from eternity? In all humility any love for God that is exceeded by a love for anything else is a corruption of the truth and is also idolitry. Yes, it is difficult to hold up our wives, children, grandchildren, our houses, our cars, everything, and say, “Here Jesus, this all belongs to you. You gave it to me and I give it back. I trust you. If you leave it with me today then help me to use it as you would use it. Amen.”

    God shares our worship with no one and nothing. He is a humble God.

    Isn’t that what Jesus said?