Through the Eye of the Needle

I had been wondering what to post for today, and given the economic turns I’ve faced of late, that is to say, having champagne ambitions on a cheap beer budget, my mind turned to Matthew 19:24: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When I looked it up in my handy-dandy trusty 25-year old Religion 101 Bible, I found this in Matthew 19:23-24:

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you this: a rich man will find it hard to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I repeat, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle …”
(The New English Bible with Apocrypha, Oxford Study Edition).[1]

I pondered this the whole weekend. How much background research should I do? What does this mean for me, because I still would just love to be rich one day. Heck, I’d settle for solvent some days. Am I just plucking this out of context?

And so it went. Until it hit me. Like a steamroller. On crack.

I was channel surfing with the the family and came across Bravo. I rarely stop there, but they had this this interesting young chef and I found out I was watching Chef Roble & Co. Okay. I used to be addicted to the chef shows. Let’s see what happens …

Chef Roble and his team were catering a wedding: wedding cake, salad, goodies. Okay, might be nice to unwind a bit and daydream of wedding reception goodies. Then they get down to brass tacks about the wedding menu. For dogs. Dogs. What? I thought, checking the cable info blurb. Yep, that’s right, a catered wedding for dogs.

And thus Matthew 19:23-24 made complete and total sense to me. Because, anyone who will throw their money away on national television while others in the country are experiencing desperate need are probably not practicing, well, you know, that whole compassion to the poor as Jesus advised the wealthy young man seeking salvation: 
“go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and then you will have riches in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21).

I really need to break this down, because I want to go in two directions this morning. I’m a bit annoyed. I find the whole televised doggie wedding cake a bit obscene. For me, the spiritual and the economic meet here, marry, and have twins called Common Sense and Compassion. I was so incensed, that I even broke my usual rule and did research to show just how obscene such indulgence is while poverty and hunger increase in this country.

I got this from the Boston Food Bank website:

New census data reveal the still-struggling economy – combined with rising living costs – has pushed a record number of Americans into poverty. Nearly one in two people are now classified as having low income or living in poverty, a total of 146.4 million people, or 48% of the U.S. population.

Today, one in nine people in eastern Massachusetts are facing hunger on a regular basis. For children, that number is almost double.

Just to make sure this wasn’t some kind of hippy-dippy propaganda put out by those nut jobs who want to throw money at problems like hungry people, I did some of my own research using US Census data. This data is available to anyone who can access a library or computer. [2]

Bullet Points from Sidebar  “Dynamics of Economic Well-Being”, p4

  • Approximately 31.6 percent of the population had at least one spell of poverty lasting 2 or more months during the 4-year period from 2004 to 2007.
  • Chronic poverty was relatively uncommon, with 2.2 percent of the population living in poverty all 48 months from 2004 to 2007.
  • More recent data from the 2008 panel show that 23.1 percent of the population experienced a poverty spell lasting 2 or more months during 2009, and around 7.3 percent of the population were in poverty every month in 2009.
  • In 2009, 26.1 percent of all people experienced at least 1 month without health insurance coverage.


P. 10:

  •  Since 2007, the year before the most recent recession, real median household income has declined 6.4 percent and is 7.1 percent below the median house­hold income peak that occurred in 1999
  • Real median household income for each race and Hispanic-origin group has not yet recovered to the pre-2001 recession all-time highs
  • Since 2007, the number of men working full time, year round with earnings decreased by 6.6 million and the number of women working full time, year round with earnings decreased by 2.8 million


In the interest of fairness, it should be only fair to mention that some of this may be part of the typical recession cycle:

Median household income declined the first full year fol­lowing the December 2007 to June 2009 recession, as well as in the first year following three other recessions (March 2001 to November 2001, January 1980 to July 1980, and December 1969 to November 1970) [details on p. 14, sic]

Then  from page  14:

  •  The official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent—up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This was the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, from 12.5 per­cent to 15.1 percent (Table 4 and Figure 4).
  • In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty
  • The poverty rate in 2010 (15.1 per­cent) was the highest poverty rate since 1993 but was 7.3 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available (Figure 4).
  • The number of people in poverty in 2010 (46.2 million) is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been pub­lished (Figure 4).

And finally: “If unemployment insurance ben­efits were excluded from money income, 3.2 million more people would be counted as poor in 2010” (p. 10). Hello.

I agree we make our money, and it’s our business how we spend it. Trust me, I’ve had enough extended family members question my choices at Marshalls when I was making my own money to know the virtues of MYOB. But, what bothers me is the pervasive fallacy we have in this country that each person is completely unaccountable to the next for his or her actions, the “every man is an island” mentality which is so completely not the case.

Let’s leave aside the intricacies right now of central bank monetization blah blah blah whereby in our country we have as much or little as the Fed decides to print or call in. Morally and generally speaking, our resources are finite at a given point at time. And when you take into account natural resources, including  food, well, those are finite. So if you’re buying something for your dogs, that means somewhere you’re taking it away from somewhere else. Either your participation in the dynamics of supply and demand are driving up prices beyond what the less fortunate can afford, or you’re not practicing some form of generosity in providing it to the poor. And by the way, a point I’ve mentioned elsewhere and will probably explore again later somewhere else, our good fortunate and prosperity would not exist if it weren’t for the poor.

And if that’s your stance, to create scarcity and squander your prosperity on the backs of the poor, then probably, yes, it’s going to be a bit difficult to understand God, His mercy or His presence in your life.

You want to know how I stay on what little diet I have? But how I got to be very serious about eating less and wasting less? I realized that by wasting food by consuming what I did not truly need, I was taking from others what they needed could have, and to me it seemed sinful, in the true meaning of the word sin. I understood what my grandmother was trying to say about the starving children in China. But let’s not forget that a lot of those starving people right now may be in our own back yard.

Ok. I’m done. See ya Wednesday.

[1] There’s an excellent resource for commentary on this passage regarding the phrase “camel through the eye of a needle.” According to the commentary cited, this was a common “figure of speech” in that area that has survived to present times, meaning something is next to impossible. If you want to review it, scroll past all the citations from various Bible versions toward the bottom, or do a find on “commentary.”

 [2] Census report:
Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010



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