By Bishop Peggy Johnson
Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to gain eternal life.” (Matthew 19:24). Scholars have contemplated the meaning of this for ages.
Was he talking about a sewing needle, which is a hyperbole? A camel and a sewing needle are impossibly out of proportion. It is similar to the analogy that Jesus made about removing a speck from our neighbor’s eye with a plank (Matthew 7:3-5). This extreme is used to drive home an important spiritual lesson.
Or maybe there was a different explanation. The “needle gate” was an actual thing, supposedly in ancient Jerusalem, that was so small that a fully loaded camel could not get through unless the packages on its back were removed.
In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, author Susan Beaumont suggests that “congregations must shed what is non-essential (in transitional times). After crossing the threshold, we are pulled forward and upward into a space of new possibility.” (p. 117).
What is the most essential thing we should be doing in 2020? Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed comes to mind. Jesus teaches us that we are to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).
In this New Year, I suggest that we engage in an inventory of our personal lives and church ministries. What kinds of baggage needs to come off so that we can move into new possibilities?
Consider our consumer-driven obsessions that keep us bound to credit card bills and debt. What health issues need to be addressed that are slowing down our effectiveness and well-being? Are we holding on to the “baggage” of bad eating and exercise habits?
Have we considered our church’s use of funds and its carbon footprint? Are our church burdened with ways of doing things and decision-making traditions that have become a burden?
How about attitudes? Where are we holding on to attitudes of despair and un-forgiveness that need to be released? Despite the many troubling things we see in the world today, God is still working wonders.
The New York Times posted a list of “22 Things That Happened for the First Time in 2019” (Your Weekend Briefing, December 29, 2019) This year there have been significant discoveries that can cure HIV, a malaria vaccine has been developed and is being tested, and there is progress in solving the dilemma of peanut allergies. In addition NASA celebrated its first all-women’s space walk; and women imams led prayer services for the first time in France.
God continually pours out blessings on us, and we need to be evangelists for the positivity of God’s Spirit working mightily in this world, and not fixate on negativity. When we take off the baggage of despair and unresolved grudges we become free to enjoy the gifts of God.
Our churches too can take off the useless baggage of looking back on how things used to be. Instead they can look forward to the new opportunities that God is presenting in this day and age.
So, the possibilities are endless as we unburden ourselves of self-imposed weights of sin and attitude. Then we can more freely head straight through the “needle gate” to our God-ordained future in 2020.
Wishing you and yours a New Year full of God’s abundant blessings.