Sunday, June 3, 2018

Camel and the Eye of Needle

The transformation of our world view is seen clearly in the way we hear the Word of the Lord.  When our Lord addressed His disciples saying: “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,” the disciples were shocked.  (Mk. 10:25)  They were were astonished at what the Lord said and their inmost thoughts were revealed out loud, “Who, then, can be saved?”
One wag said it is clear that over the centuries, the eyes of needles seem to have grown, while camels have gotten markedly thinner. In other words, what Jesus said is no longer offensive to us.  No one is astonished by those words anymore.  Perhaps it is due to the fact that we have been assured by well meaning preachers that Jesus was merely exaggerating for effect and the words are not to be taken literally.  Perhaps it is because we have grown to hate the rich and privileged and feel so comfortable in our middle class that we do not feel at all threatened by Jesus' words.  Perhaps it is because we no longer think salvation a difficult thing to procure -- either we have grown fat on the prospect of cheap grace or else we don't think we need much grace to assist our able efforts or it might be that we think God old and lazy and will, at the last, simply beckon y'all come.  For whatever the reason, the fact that we not scandalized by Jesus words is a real problem.

For when Christ made it so difficult for even the rich to be saved, He at the very same time promised them that though it was impossible of man, “with God, all things are possible.”  The scandal of Jesus' words lies not simply in the fact that the rich find it impossible to be saved but that God does the impossible.  Yet this is the whole key to the Gospel.  Christ dies not for the good, the righteous, and those worthy of being saved but for the sinner, the guilty, and those undeserving of a break.  Christ does not clothe the good with the reward of His righteousness but covers up the dirty.  Christ does not give to the deserving the reward of eternal life but to those who have as much chance of earning His favor as a camel making its way through that needle.

Missouri Synod poet and preacher Dr. Martin Franzmann captured this wondrous mystery in words we should be singing, but, sadly, do not.  He frames the paradox of the God who gives to the unworthy, unwise, and undeserving the most precious gift the world will ever know.  Some say we do not sing this hymn because the melody is difficult or there are too many words (it is too long).  I wonder if we don't sing it because we don't like what it says -- and in the same way we have tamed the Lord's words in Matthew 10:25 and made them into hyperbole that we are free to dismiss as we make our self-sufficient way through this life to what we presume is our earned reward.  And I fear if that is, indeed, the case, for then we shall actually find out how hard it is for a camel to make its way through the eye of a needle.

O Kingly Love, that faithfully
Didst keep thine ancient promises,
Didst bid the bidden come to thee,
The people thou didst choose to bless,

This day we raise
Our song of praise ,
Adoring thee,
That in the days
When alien sound
Had all but drowned
Thine ancient, true, and constant melody,
Thy mighty hand did make
A trumpet none could silence or mistake;
Thy living breath did blow for all the world to hear,
Living and clear
The feast is ready.
Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast!

O lavish Love, that didst prepare
A table bounteous as thy heart,
That men might leave their puny care
And taste and see how good thou Art


O seeking Love, thy hurrying feet
Go searching still to urge and call
The bad and good on ev'ry street
To fill thy boundless banquet hall.


O holy Love, thou canst not brook,
Man's cool and careless enmity;
O ruthless Love, thou wilt not look
On man robed in contempt of thee.

Final Refrain:
Thine echoes die;
Our deeds deny
Thy summoning;:
Our darkling cry,
Our meddling sound
Have all but drowned
That song that once made ev'ry echo ring.
Take up again, oh, take
The trumpet none can silence or mistake,
And blow once more for us and all the world to hear,
Living and clear
The feast is ready.
Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast!


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I am listening to it as I type. How beautiful and at the same time, didactic. Not having heard it from youth, I would say that it would take the leading of a trained choir or this recording to make it possible for the congregation to sing it correctly and would take repetition. It is more musically complex than some of the ditties that pass for praise music today and others that we have sung from our youth. This piece should have been one of them.