Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | October 12, 2018

Privilege doesn’t fit through the eye of the needle

Like us, the disciples are shocked by Jesus’ sayings about the wealthy. That’s because it’s so easy for them and us to believe that the rich have been rewarded by God because, well, they are rich. Circular reasoning? Maybe. But how else could they become so blessed? Our thinking is so backwards that it makes Jesus’ teachings sound backwards. Turning our minds around to his way is difficult.

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” [From Mark 10]

Much has been made of the idea that Jesus may be talking about a very small gate in the city wall called “the eye of the needle.” To pass through it, a camel would practically have to kneel down and all the baggage would have to be removed.

Baggage.

Where we see wealth as blessing, Jesus sees it as baggage. Where we see all the material things in life as inherently good, Jesus sees them as dangerous to our spiritual well being. The man in the story, for example, walks away deeply saddened because he doesn’t want to be released from the burdens that he holds dear and considers as blessings from God.

Jesus doesn’t give up hope on him or any of us, though. If we can reorient our beliefs, our hearts, and our practices then nothing is impossible for us. It takes work, though.

The first thing that needs to be reoriented is our belief that the possessions and money we have are ours because we’re better than other people. This is a type of privilege that gets us into very deep spiritual trouble, because we look down on those who don’t have what we have. They must not work hard enough, we say. They are lazy. They don’t care about educating themselves. They could pull themselves out of poverty if they tried.

Poverty is so very complicated, but one thing we must always remember is that Jesus has a particular preference for the poor.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh…

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
[From Luke 6]

We hear much today about privilege. Wealth privilege. White privilege. Male privilege. It’s true that those who fall into those groups experience benefits that those outside the groups aren’t privy to. Wealthy people don’t have to worry about being wiped out by a single illness or a hurricane, since they have insurance. White drivers don’t have to worry about being pulled over because of their race, or being insulted by someone calling the police because they’re in the “wrong” place. Men don’t have to worry about not being believed when they report a sexual assault to the police, or to the university they attend, or to their families, or to the members of a Senate committee.

It’s hard to recognize our own privilege; it’s even harder to decide to examine it. Still more difficult is to decide to do something to equalize the state of privilege in our society—to be willing to give up something that we hold dear simply because our spiritual well-being requires it. The tiniest of first steps is not putting down those who are poor, non-white, non-male, etc. But there’s also real work to be done. We educate ourselves about people who are vastly different from us. We learn to appreciate the uniqueness of every individual. Then, then, says Jesus, we seek for ways to give up some of our privilege so that others may share in society’s benefits. We let go of the baggage.

We work to alleviate poverty, even when it means sharing our wealth. We work to overcome racism, even when it means we cross those boundaries that divide people from each other. We work to end sexism, even if it means we see and treat women the same way we see and treat men.

As the baggage of our own privilege starts to be peeled away—through our own efforts, through deep interactions with people who are different from us, and through the help of spiritual intervention—we may become unburdened enough to enter into the city where God dwells and where all people are equal.

I don’t have a picture of an actual camel, but this is Camel Rock in New Mexico.

© 2018 Melissa Bane Sevier

 

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