Jesus says a lot of nervy things, but for many of us there are few things he utters that are more upsetting and preposterous—and just downright offensive—than the shocking statements that begin today’s gospel. In a culture that idolizes wealth and possessions and teaches us to measure the meaning and success of our lives in light of them, to hear Jesus proclaim that it would be “easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye” than for a rich man or woman to set foot in the kingdom of God strikes us as both offensive and outrageous. Among the many teachings we wish Jesus would retract, this is surely near the top of the list.
Jesus never softens the sting of some truths because Jesus loves us and wants our good, and sometimes that means telling us things we would rather not hear. Jesus knew that human beings desire, hunger and long for whatever we think will fulfill us. We attach ourselves to whatever we think will bless us with joy and bring some peace and satisfaction to our endlessly restless hearts. Unfortunately, our culture schools us to believe, even if our hearts know otherwise, that money and material things will complete us, that they will heal and make us whole; thus we should love and strive for them more than anything else.
The thrust of the gospels is to purify and order our loves so that we truly can grow and flourish and find joy. That means becoming detached from many things in order to be wholeheartedly attached to God. Another name for this is conversion and it is what happens to us when we follow Jesus on the challenging but infinitely hopeful path of discipleship.
What has won our heart? What do we love more than anything else and most fear losing? If our answer to these questions is God, we can rejoice for we have already entered the kingdom of God.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family.