Passing through the needle’s eye
As a child I associated camels with Christmas, in particular with the Three Kings, whom they transported across vast deserts to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Infant Jesus. Depictions of the Three Kings adoring the Child are incomplete without these dromedaries standing by.
Later I would come across their photographs in magazines, especially the National Geographic. They further implanted themselves in my consciousness with a brand of cigarettes that carried their name and the catchphrase, “I’d walk a mile for a camel,” which I found odd. Shouldn’t one instead ride for a mile on a camel? (But then I was a non-smoker, and later, having myself tried a few smokes, I surmised that I could write a memoir that began, “For one brief, shining moment, I had a Camel.”)
I finally saw actual camels when with friends the wife and I visited a zoo in a northern province. In fact I wrote a poem in which I described them as follows-
They’re creatures of the desert,
Whose sands run in the hour
Glass of infinity.
Indeed, Jesus, in a way, associated the camel with heaven. He used the animal to illustrate the huge obstacle that riches put in the path of those who wanted to enter it.
In his Gospel, Mark narrates that, while Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to follow the commandments, which the man said he had done from his youth. Hearing this, Jesus looked at him with tenderness and advised, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark writes that the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Commenting on this, Jesus told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ words do not trouble me too much because I am a poor man. But really they should, for the other day, seeing that the lottery prize had reached a billion pesos, I yielded to the temptation to buy a ticket. Perhaps that makes me a rich man, not in fact but in desire, and, although I promised most anyone around me a generous share of the money if I should win (and I did not), I find a covetousness within me which is inappropriate for own who seeks to follow Christ.
(Come to think of it, the Three Kings used a brilliant strategy. They rode on the camels to make, in the gold, frankincense and myrrh, a gift of themselves to the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. They made an entry together with their animals.)
As for myself, I think of the camels in the zoo with not a little envy. Because I find it difficult to renounce my love of wealth, and God will sooner let the dromedaries pass through the needles’ eye than allow me to enter the kingdom of heaven.