The camel and the needle
What do you value? Just over a week ago a spray painted stencil on canvas, called ‘Girl with Balloon’, was sold for just over £1 million at Sotheby’s. As the gavel dropped on the sale, the frame in which the painting was hung whirred to life, and the painting was shredded. A pre-ordained self-destruction organised by the artist, Banksy, who had built the frame with a remote control shredder. The result was a new piece of art, one the artist has named: ‘Love is in the Bin’. Of course, if it had been a Rembrandt or a Constable, the purchaser would have justifiably held their money back it would have been worthless in this case the purchaser has agreed to take the piece of artwork as it is. The question remains – is it actually worth more now?
Of course the whole question of worth is a complex one. Particularly in the case of the art market. Recently Dragons Den had a couple of entrepreneurs wanting to challenge the current market by enabling shared ownership of art. Much like Banksy’s latest rouse, they wanted to push the question about value of art and enable those for whom the market is inaccessible to have some way of engaging in it.
True value is what we make of it. Something is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it with all the influences of competition and demand to change how much we value something. I spent three months working in Singapore with an airline. During my time there I took advantage of being in the far east to do a bit of travelling. I remember well getting the bus and then the train North, through Malaysia and into Thailand. Buying food from vendors who came on board at the border to sell their wares. The expectation was to barter for everything, and I did a little, but for a moment I thought about how much the street food pastry I was buying was costing me in pounds, and decided I’d stop it seemed silly to be trying to save pennies when the person selling the food could really do with it.
One time, when travelling, I thought I’d lost my telephone. I was furious with myself, with the cost of it, and with all the valuable things I had stored on it. The idea that it was lost turned in my gut. It was partly being angry with myself, it was partly because I was abroad and was worried about replacing it – would I be able to afford it. But it was also, in fact, if I’m honest, it was mostly because I simply put so much value on my phone, not monetary value, but personal value.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is confronted by this man who wants to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to – to remember the ten commandments and keep them. The man wants to know what else. Jesus says sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. The man leaves weeping thinking of all the things he owns. And Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that immortal line: “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.” but the story goes on…. “then who can be saved?” asks Peter “For mortals it is impossible – for God all things are possible.” And goes on to reassure them that they will receive both in this age and in the age to come.
We often get hung up on the issue of the rich man being able to get through the eye of the needle and fail to notice Jesus is trying to change the conversation, a bit like Banksy. For Jesus there are two questions that need to be asked: 1st) What should I do? or How should I live? and 2nd) How can I be saved? They are different questions, both are important to Jesus, but one does not lead to the other. Money and wealth play a significant role in scripture, in the Old and New Testaments and in the teaching of Jesus but then of course they play a significant role in the world. And God is intensely interested in us and in the world. Throughout scripture God is telling his people not to make money, or power, or things rule over them. Only God could create them. We create all this other stuff – not the other way around, we shouldn’t then let stuff be our master. The Old Testament proposed this idea of a Jubilee every 50 years where debts were released. It also demanded wealth was shared, as we simulate at our Harvest last week.
The early church, we are told in the acts of the apostles, shared everything in common and what they did not need they shared with others. Jesus is asked what else can I do by this young man, and this is the challenge he puts to him, the next step he can take in putting God first.
Of course God knows it’s difficult to be that generous. In Jesus, God has experienced those temptations to value stuff over God – to put stuff we create before God and before ourselves and those around us. And God is there with us – he knows the temptations. When Jesus was about to tell the man what he needed to do next, we are told he looked at him and loved him. He knows when we have failed to live up to the challenges he puts before us – and he is always ready to forgive us when we do.
The answer to the other question then: “how can I be saved?” The answer is simply by the will of God – through God’s love for us, love shown in the act of creating us, love shown through sending Jesus to be one of us, love we attempt to show one another each day. God knows, it is impossible for us to earn our place at this table behind me, that it is impossible for us to earn the title ‘Children of God’ but he invites us to it anyways. God chooses to welcome each one of you into the family of God, in the full knowledge that for us to get here on our own would be like a camel going through the eye of a needle.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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