Mark 10:17-30; 12:41-44; Luke 12:13-21; 14; 16
This wonderful lesson teaches what is necessary to obtain God’s greatest gift an eternal life with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We are brought face to face with our own short comings through the readings of this lesson. We are asked to try on the shoes of the rich man, the rich fool, and the unjust servant. Furthermore, we are to learn from the lesson of the poor widow and the parable of the great supper. The following insights and information are availed to you to enrich your lesson of theses important teachings from the Savior.
• Mark 1l: 25 “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”.
Over the years, biblical commentators have taken three approaches in exploring the meaning of this scripture. The first of these has found wide acceptance among Christians because of the beauty of its teachings. It holds that in ancient times there was a small gate cut inside the larger gate of the city through which one might enter after nightfall, when the city was closed. Although this small gate—termed the “eye of the needle”—could readily admit a man, a camel could enter only by first being relieved of its burden and then by walking through on its knees. The imagery here is that of the sinner casting away his faults (or the rich man his worldly possessions) and kneeling in prayer.
Unfortunately, there are problems with this beautiful explanation. One is that the camel’s anatomy does not permit it to crawl on its knees. More serious, however, is the fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of the use of such small inset gates in the time of Christ. One may see them today in Jerusalem and Damascus, where the local tour guides will call them by the term “eye of the needle,” but there are no such gates dating prior to the twelfth century A.D. Moreover, the guides have taken the term “eye of the needle” from modern commentators of the Matthew passage and not from an authentic ancient tradition.
A second possibility is that Jesus actually used the word “rope,” the Greek form of which (kamilos) is similar to the word used for “camel” in Matthew 19:24 (kamelos) [Matt. 19:24]. The rope, after all, is just a larger version of string or thread, which one would expect to use with a needle.
A third possibility is that Jesus really meant to say “camel” and that his speech was deliberate hyperbole—exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis—common in that part of the world. Dummelow, for example, cites the Greek saying, “It is easier to hide five elephants under one’s arm,” and the Latin, “More easily would a locust bring forth an elephant.” Alongside these, he notes the tradition in which one rabbi said to another, “Perhaps thou art one of those of Pombeditha, who can make an elephant pass through a needle’s eye.” The parallel with Jesus’ statement is remarkable, suggesting a lingering use in Judaism of this particular kind of hyperbole. (J. R. Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, New York: MacMillan, 1973, pp. 689-90.)
Evidence suggesting that hyperbole may have been intended when Jesus spoke of the camel and the needle’s eye comes from the fact that his hearers understood the impossibility of the statement and “were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” To this, Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:25-26; italics added.)
Jesus’ use of hyperbole is found in another of his sayings: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24.) Obviously, those to whom he addressed these words did not really swallow camels!
The prophet Joseph Smith knew that the Savior’s words about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel were not to be taken literally. In his translation (JST, Matt. 23:21), he deleted reference to swallowing the camel and wrote, “Ye blind guides, who make yourselves appear unto men that ye would not commit the least sin, and yet ye yourselves, transgress the whole law.” The real intent of Jesus’ hyperbolic teaching is to be found in this translation, though the wording is not literal.
Hyperbole, exaggeration for the sake of emphasis, found in the Old as well as the New Testament, remains even today a part of everyday speech in the Middle East. It is a linguistic and cultural trait common to that area. Its usage in the Bible does not diminish the importance or the truthfulness of that sacred volume. Rather, it places it geographically and adds to its authenticity.
All three possible explanations of Matthew 19:24—the gate, the rope, and the Jewish figure of speech—have been mentioned by prominent Latter-day Saint leaders. (See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973, pp. 485-6; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-73, 1:556.)
In any event, the idea is clear—riches can become a serious stumbling block to a person seeking eternal life.
Bro. Robert Millet does not mix words or soften the position of those who love riches over God. “Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said when he taught that 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 heaven. There is no metaphor intended. No softening of this hard saying by linguistic or cultural traditions is justifiable. The Savior said what he said. “Who then can be saved?” the apostles asked. “With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all things are possible” (JST, Mark 10:22-26; compare JST, Matt. 19:26; JST Luke 18:27). The issue, then, is one of trust. Reliance. Dependence. The Almighty, who promises us all that he has, asks simply that we be willing to give him all. Nothing else will do. (Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 34.)
It is not an uncommon thing for a poor person to look with envy upon the possessions of the wealthy, and remark how easy it would be for him to be generous, and make sacrifices for a righteous cause, if he were only wealthy. It is hard—perhaps impossible—for such a person to realize it (never having been possessed of wealth,) but wealth is more frequently a bar to the service of the Lord than a help therein. We must conclude that the rich are less susceptible to the saving influence of the Gospel than the poor. This is confirmed by the declaration that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and numerous passages about the deceitfulness of riches, and of “the love of money,” being “the root of all evil.”
When we come to analyze the question, it is not the wealth itself that is evil, but the avarice and arrogance that its possession is apt to develop, for the more one has the more he is apt to want. The person who in his youth is eager to acquire wealth is apt to grow intensely avaricious if not miserly in his old age. The person who manifests pride and slight regard for others’ rights in youth is apt to become unbearably arrogant as he grows older.
Humility is a pre-requisite to the acceptance and practice of those principles upon which salvation depends, and humility is the very opposite of arrogance. Treasures in heaven are apt to look most attractive to the person whose view thereof is not obstructed by treasures upon earth; for “where the treasure is, there will the heart be also.” A poor person, seeking salvation, is not so apt to have his attention distracted there from, as is one who is full of care concerning his earthly possessions.
• The parable of the unjust steward parable is often misunderstood. This parable was used by the Lord to contrast the amount of thought, time and energy that we devote to spiritual treasures of eternal life verses worldly treasures of man. Elder George Q. Cannon gives valuable insight into this parable.
I have had some ask me concerning the meaning of the parable of the unjust steward, contained in the 16th chapter of Luke. They cannot understand why the Savior commended the unjust steward who, when threatened with the loss of his stewardship, resolved to make friends of his master’s debtors so that when he should be put out they might receive him into their houses. The Savior commended this steward because he had done wisely; and he said to those who listened to him: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (George C. Lambert [George Q. Cannon], Treasures in Heaven: Faith-Promoting Series, no. 15 [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1914], 55 – 56.)
There is an important principle involved in these teachings. God has entrusted us with means. We are His stewards. He will call us to an account for our stewardship. This unjust steward saw what was coming. Now, he said, in effect, “I will take of this which I have and over which I am steward, and I will make with it friends to myself.” And he did so, so that when his stewardship was taken from him he would have friends. We should be equally wise in using the means with which God has entrusted us as stewards. Men and women who are rich, if they only knew the right course, would do as the women did to Jesus—”And Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others which ministered unto him of their substance.” This was how the women who had means made friends with Jesus, and others have made friends of the prophets in the same way, as if to say: “I will make friends with the prophets, with the apostles, with the men of God who will have power in days to come, so that if I fail they may receive me into everlasting habitations.” For do you think that God makes men kings and priests without giving them authority and power? No. These men who are despised of the world, will yet sit upon thrones, and exercise power and dominion; and I would like to make friends of them, and gain their love; and if I were a man of means, and they were destitute, I would like to impart means to them, and thus make friends of them with that which God had made me steward over.
God has made us all stewards. He has placed means in our hands. What better use can we make of this substance than to build up His kingdom upon the earth, to help establish His righteousness, and to devote everything that we have to the advancement of His cause? And He will reward us, He will receive us into everlasting habitations, and He will increase His glory, honor and power upon us.
Let not any of us sacrifice the prize of eternal life for worldly treasures.