As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.” The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?” Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” (MESSAGE)
In Jesus’ day, material wealth was seen as a sign of God’s special favour. So when he announces that wealth is actually a barrier to entry into God’s family, it comes as a shock to his hearers. If even the rich can’t get in, what hope does anyone have?
Our paraphrase clarifies what Jesus is saying. Relying on wealth or on earthly status will get you nowhere. Relying on anything other than the mercy of God expressed in Jesus will get you nowhere. Only helpless dependence on that mercy can gain entry into God’s family.
In fact, wealth can be a hindrance to this helplessness. It can cause us to become self-sufficient. If we have been successful in this life, we can be successful in impressing God when it comes to salvation. But this is sadly mistaken. Attachment to material success may well lead to detachment from Jesus.
And one more thing: some have thought Jesus is referring to a narrow gate in Jerusalem’s walls when he speaks of the eye of a needle. There was no such gate at that time. Jesus was simply using a bit of humour, a bit of playful exaggeration. We need to let this perfect man enjoy a joke at times!