There is a gate in a wall not far from Brynrefail, Let’s just say that it is rather on the narrow side. Only the very slimly built shall pass, and, sideways at that. There are a number of things you could do to enter that footpath. You could, if you really wished to get through the gate at all costs, take a mallet to the slate to widen the gateway which is perhaps a little drastic when you could of course just cross the road and go around by another way. Or you could take an alternative and perhaps rather more drastic view (especially since it is towards the end of January and new year resolutions are long forgotten by now) and go on a diet until you could fit through the gate. This sounds a little bit ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ ‘Only a penitent man will pass’. But all three are of course possible, though Gwynedd Council may have something to say about the first. All three of these are also possible approaches to the reading from Matthew. We can take a sledge to the text and change the meaning of the camel, as Cyril of Alexander did to mean a thick rope. Or perhaps the eye of the needle. It was claimed in the 9th century that there was a small gate into Jerusalem one through which a camel could only pass if passengers and luggage were removed first. There is indeed a gate into Jerusalem called ‘eye of the needle’, but wasn’t built until the 16th century. These options make the impossible seem easier, even understandable and perhaps logical. But the point of the saying is reflected in the astonishment of the disciples ‘Who then can be saved?’ We can not hide from the fact that this saying does seem ridiculous. But then, Jesus often used ridicule against those who interpreted the scriptures to their own ends – or at the expense of others who like finding another pathway around – to avoid the gate altogether – like avoiding the question of whether one’s over indulgence at Christmas was perhaps a little too much.
I’d like to suggest though – no matter how ridiculous it sounds, that it is possible to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Now first I shall need a camel – (here’s one I made earlier) and a needle. Now in this process the ‘camel’ will logically need to be broken down bit by bit into pieces that will fit through the needle. What goes through will be entirely different when it comes out the other side. What is required of course is a whole transformation, rather than a tricky puzzle to solve. Your camel will end up entirely changed, unrecognisable from before. This is what Jesus suggests is necessary for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven – total transformation. It is what happens to Saul on the road to damascus. Transformation. One life is left behind, another is taken on. For the rich man that meant giving up the riches. Not just for the moment, but also giving up the love of the riches so that a transformation was possible. For Saul giving up one life of violence and persecution and taking on the opposite. Notice that Paul does not just switch sides, his whole attitude to life has changed from one of anger and resentment at those who followed in ‘The Way’ to a life of sharing the love of God in Jesus. Total transformation. That is what Jesus suggests is necessary with his ridiculous suggestion – and of course with God, all things are possible – even getting a camel through the eye of a needle, or getting through that footpath gate – post Christmas.