Camels Threading the Needle (Matthew 19)
- Liturgical Date: St. Lucia of Syracuse + December 13, 2017
- Order of Service: Vespers
- Hymns: LSB #332, 347, 357
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24)
Ever try to thread the eye of a needle with a camel? Of course not! That would be impossible. However, Jesus tells us, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus reminds us of God's words through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” What we see as signs of God's great favor are often not how God shows His favor. Two things related to this as we think about St. Lucia tonight. The least obvious is usually the most blessed by God. Consecration to the Lord is the main thing in life and eternity.
Often, the least obvious thing in your eyes is blessed by God the most. In our text, the disciples were flabbergasted that the rich young man went away sad. They couldn't understand. They thought that God had blessed him with the riches he had acquired. There was no way that God wouldn't accept him into Heaven. But Jesus tells him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus tells the rich young man to make himself poor in order to “be perfect.” Jesus upholds the poor as blessed, as He had done through the Mosaic Law's provisions for the poor.
As we look at St. Lucia, we also see something that is definitely not obvious to our world. The exact opposite of the rich young man. A rich young woman who is willing to give everything to the poor to have treasure in Heaven. She was willing to give up everything to have the one thing necessary. Her Savior Jesus. Lucia consecrated herself to the Lord as a virgin. She even gave up the pleasure of a husband and a family for Jesus. She would remain betrothed only to Jesus.
Our world doesn't value virginity. It's considered a bad word among our increasingly over-sexualized society. Our music, our television and our movies have become increasingly more explicit with their sexual overtones and provocation. Very early on, our children learn that sex is one of the most basic human rights. That everyone should be able to have sex with anyone they want at any time. The ease and proliferation of pornography doesn't help the matter either. Those who treat sex as the gift God intended it to be are scorned as being repressed or prudes. Those who treat sex as a commodity to be traded are held in high esteem. Those who stand up for the Bible and speak against sexual immorality or cohabitation are branded as being burdened by antiquated morality. Those who speak up for sexual perversions are lauded as heroes fighting the mighty monolith of Christianity.
But virginity is a very God-pleasing state. St. Paul himself says, “I wish that all were as I myself am … to remain single as I am.” However, Paul concedes that singleness and virginity are spiritual gifts that not everyone can possess. Everyone has their own gifts. Not everyone can be consecrated as a virgin. Those who don't have that gift are allowed to marry.
Perpetual virginity was as foreign a concept in the first century as in the twenty-first. The prevailing culture diminishes sex to a basic, almost animalistic level. In many places like Syracuse, temples to the Greek and Roman gods had cult prostitutes who were involved in the worship rituals with the worshippers. The idea that a man or woman would purposely choose not to indulge their sexual nature was ludicrous.
However, the medieval Church took a very similar stand in the opposite direction. In the early Church, monasteries and convents were erected so that those who were called to consecrate themselves as virgins had a place to live with like-minded brothers or sisters. A place to live and worship without the distractions of the real world. Somewhere in the late Dark Ages or early Middle Ages, monasteries and convents became dumping grounds for children. Next week, we'll meet one of those children dumped off at a convent—Katharina Von Bora. Whether these young boys or girls had the spiritual gift of perpetual virginity or not, they were dumped into the monasteries and convents to become their parents' contribution to the “religious life.” This would become the “eye of the needle” that the virgin camels would be forced to thread in the real world.
St. Lucia of Syracuse overlapped slightly with St. Nicholas of Myra. While Nicholas helped young women who were worried about not being able to marry, Lucia had no desire to marry. Unmarried women in the fourth century had a bad life. Most were forced either into slavery or prostitution. Very few found solace in the Church in the office of virgin. But those who did found themselves unworried about the things of this world. They were able to focus solely on their religious and spiritual devotion to Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom. Like many other virgins in her time, Lucia wanted no husband except Jesus. She sought to be an image of the Church, Jesus' virgin Bride. The Church is never called the “wife” of Christ. She is always called the “bride” of Christ. Spotless and without blemish in her virginity. This is why the Church has such a difficult time in society.
The Church has been consecrated. Set apart for God's holy purpose. The holy purpose of proclaiming salvation to the world. A world that doesn't want to be saved. A world that enjoys shrinking the eye of the needle. Making it more and more difficult to proclaim salvation through Jesus. The eye shrinks so much that some churches give in and adopt the ways and thinking of the world instead of Christ. These churches throw away their consecration in hopes of being more accepted.
But Christ has consecrated you in your Baptism. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.” You have been set apart for His purpose. To “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” He may not have consecrated you to be a virgin like St. Lucia, but He has consecrated you for a specific purpose, a specific vocation. This consecration comes in any godly vocation.
In these consecrated vocations, you are able to thread the needle. Not because you are so wonderful. Because God is so wonderful. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God makes everything possible because He has consecrated you for eternity. His Baptism gives you life everlasting. Life without end. Consecration without end.
You are the camel who can thread the needle because God is with you. St. Lucia was able to thread the needle through her martyrdom. She remained faithful until death so she received the crown of life. To illustrate this, Scandinavians celebrate St. Lucia's Day by dressing their young women with a red sash for her martyrdom and a crown of lighted candles. Her crown continues to shine as we remember her devotion to her Lord. Her generosity to the poor. Her witness of the heavenly Bridegroom.
Are you sharing the Light as Lucia shared it? Do you celebrate your consecration by proclaiming the Light of Christ? Are you excited to join St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, St. Katharina Von Bora Luther, and all the other saints in that “great multitude that no one could number”? Thread the needle through God's grace. It is a tight squeeze, but “with God all things are possible.” Amen.