Squeezing the Camel Through the Eye of the Needle

Some reflections on wealth and the Kingdom from Church Action for Tax Justice Chair Sue Richardson. 

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25) 

This is the first in a series of short reflections for the Advent season exploring some gospel texts about wealth, its creation and its use, our relationship with it and how it causes us to relate to others, as an invitation to some faith-based reflection on our times and our response to them. The intention is to test various understandings of the spirituality of wealth to resource our actions as Church-based organisations seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. 

What do we see? 

We are living with the known and the unknown. Our year is turning and our darkest month will soon be brightened with the glitter of Christmas celebration. We mark this with patterns of eating and drinking, with conviviality and with excessive consumption. 

But we are also living with a threat to health and life that has impacted on our capacity to celebrate. Covid-19, a microscopic virus, has permeated our communities, changed our patterns of relationship and in many cases challenged our sense of personal and communal security. 

To restore wellbeing to our economy, defined as growth, we are urged to spend and acquire. On Black Friday British consumers are expected to spend around 9.2 billion pounds. During our Covid-19 struggle British savers have added more than any other nation to their personal savings. It might be expected that our coming Christmas spend would dig into that pot as we translated savings into spending, but it is much more likely that the consumption will be fuelled by credit, by the creation of ‘new wealth’, by an increase in debt. 

Meanwhile over the last 18 months millionaires and billionaires have been created and their wealth increased. The ground of the Coronavirus has produced an abundance for some. 

So ECCR/CATJ has called for a ‘wealth tax’ to equalise the levy placed on earned and unearned income. 

What do we believe?

Scripturally and theologically wealth is characterised as ‘abundance’ and is celebrated as the providence of God. We Christians believe in abundance, we are promised it….life in fullness. However, we live in a society where wealth is pre-eminently defined as ‘monetary richness’ or asset ownership.

Jesus has some fundamental things to say about riches seen this way: they are an obstruction to entry to the Kingdom of God; they are critical distractions from the purposes of God, “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13) 

We read: The parable of the rich fool. (Luke 12:13-21

What is your first reaction to this story?

Could it be surprise at the appearance of death?  Isn’t death a most severe penalty for doing well in your farming?  This is a provocative question that is unpacked by looking closer at the text.

Look at the language: it is full of ‘I’ and ‘my’. Despite the help of the ‘land’ he considers his abundance his alone, and, as a result, the benefit should accrue to him alone as there is no consideration of his religious obligations to the vulnerable in his community or even mention of the labourers, harvesters and processors who dealt with the crop.

He asks himself the essential question: what shall we do with abundance?  His main concern is how to contain it, to hold onto it for future use.  He decides to create bigger storage facilities. Perhaps other people and their own spaces are moved away for this?

His attention is on his future and his confidence in its security and longevity. Now, with so much resource, is the time for leisure, for feasting, for a party.  But the only guest who comes is God and he brings death as his ‘plus one’.

Abundance has been problematic for our rich man. It demanded a change in his immediate circumstances. It demanded action from him. He chose to ‘enlarge’ his capacity to hold and to ‘reduce’ the possibilities of use for his possessions, he chose to ‘extend’ the distance between himself and unnamed others, and between himself and the Other, to whom he shows no gratitude.

That ‘But’ at the end is huge. It carries such freight of judgement and alternativity. God calls our man ‘Fool’, which carries the cultural implication not just of triviality but of someone without wisdom or understanding. This is a descriptor of someone who hasn’t the least idea of what fullness of life looks like;  who wouldn’t recognise ‘the Kingdom’ if he was pushed into it.

He has failed to offer to God the things prescribed by faith: praise and gratitude, tithes, attention to the rights and needs of others, and now God is ‘demanding’ he gives up his life.

Jesus asks: “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  

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