May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
What a mostly sad set of readings for the week after Thanksgiving. Job can’t find God anywhere; he looks left and right and God is nowhere to be found. The Psalm which was one of Jesus’ Last Words from the Cross, speaks of desolation; He cries out in abandonment and God is nowhere to be found in His time of desperate need. The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that our beliefs will cause us grief; the Word of God is the two edged sword that will be the ultimate disruptor causing a real struggle between our bodily wants and our spiritual needs; Faith will not bring respite from internal struggle but will cause it. And then a week after Thanksgiving Jesus tells a guy, who has been blessed with much wealth to give it all away; he didn’t because he was obsessed with wealth.
Then we have the camel, at last I have found an animal in the Scripture that I can work with, on this day when we bless them. Now the camel is faced with a seemingly impossible task but Jesus does not rule out success. This rather large creature is given the task of going through the eye of a needle. We all know how difficult it is to get a cotton thread through one let alone a hulking great camel. So what can we learn ?
Well in ancient times cities had great gates at their entrance that were shut at night to protect those living within. The gates were large and therefore heavy and often reinforced by large timbers so they could not be easily battered down. And sure as God made little apples if a person arrived after the gates were shut the guards were not going to take down all the reinforcements and undo all the bolts just to let one tardy soul through. So in the gate was a wicket, a small door, like the eye of a needle, that was more easily opened and a person could climb through. You had to step over the sill and duck your head to get in. The traveller’s camel on the other hand had to be unloaded outside and coaxed to step and squeeze through the small opening. Considering all this it might have been easier to open the gates but the guards would not break the rules, like at the Gates of Heaven, rules are not broken.
The lesson in the Gospel I think is that the wealthy are burdened with many material blessings and often find it difficult to manage them in a Christian way. I suggest excess wealth gives power, power that gets in the way of understanding how the rest of humanity lives, which causes isolation from those who are no worse nor any better than the rich in character or spirituality.
Our current economic system has its good points but it makes it very difficult to live a Christian life, for it depends on increase, producing more of this, that and the other and accumulating more until the system will eventually have to be replaced because we live in a finite world with finite resources. Increase will eventually have to cease, and a more Christian way of life established – Jesus was teaching that lesson two millennia ago. In the meantime resources are consumed and being limited cannot be replaced, only reused, and there are environmental issues in animal husbandry to consider too, even as we bless those same animals. In short we need to curb production and consumption otherwise our economy will drive us into extinction. But we can’t sit back and blame the captains of industry alone. We all one way or another have wealth and responsibility in the stewardship of this beautiful planet. If you have money in the Bank, or a Pension, or property you are a part of the problem and therefore a part of the solution. You don’t have to be a big player, you just have to be aware. But it’s not just an obsession for wealth that’s the problem it’s any obsession, for instance a career, even the career of others, how many parents and grandparents knock themselves out getting their children to every opportunity to excel at the expense of a quality life for themselves ? Obsessions can be for status, pride, sex, family, pets almost anything – they are all bad and detract from a well-lived life. All obsessions distract us from living a Christian life; Jesus wants us to get rid of them. Obsessions will have to be unloaded at the Pearly Gates, so why not now, why wait ?
We have sometimes obsessed over animals because we depended on them. The camel, a beast of burden, was cared for by its keeper because he relied on it for his livelihood. Cattle, horses and sheep are fed, herded and sheltered from predators, because they provide transportation, power, sustenance and protection for people; the milk, the wool, the leather, even the glue are fundamentals of our life. Dogs and cats provide protection, eradication of vermin and a fair bit of comfort. Birds, insects and fish all serve a purpose of distributing seeds and controlling vegetation. All of them manage well the environment they depend on. For all these things we bless them. We need to live cooperatively with the creatures over which we have dominion.
So may I suggest that we are the camel. We do carry heavy burdens. We often carry them for long periods in our lives as we go through both emotional and spiritual deserts. We make awful noises, figuratively and in reality, when we get upset and are unhappy with our lives. Yes we are camels. But there is hope. Set down those things that obsess you, return to the way you were created. Jesus promises Heaven to all those who do. We were created to be like the animals we bless. Without greed; when an animal gathers it gathers enough for its needs, not an excess. When an animal fights it does so only to protect its family or territory and therefore its life. Animals live in ordered societies, look at the ants and the bees, there are no rebels among them, they exist and work for the common good. Surely that is what Jesus wants us to do, loving God and our neighbour, and that will lead to our Redemption. We have dominion over the animals, and we can learn from them too. Today let us bless them as at the same time we recognise the example they give us and our dependence on them. Amen.