Through the Eye
of a Neddle
19:16-24; Mk 10:17-25; Lk 18:18-25)
But Nivio, are you really serious?
Nivio: Of course, my friends. Don't you believe me?
Titus: What happened? Did you have a spat with your girl? Did
your father disown you?
Nivio: Neither of the two.
Reuben: You must be sick, then.
Nivio: No, nothing of that sort. I'm perfectly all right. But
I'll feel better if I go and tell him: "Hey, prophet, count me
in! I'd like to join your group, too, and travel to Jerusalem, and spend
the Passover in the city of David."
Titus: I bet you won't dare.
Nivio: I won't dare what?
Titus: Say that to the prophet.
Nivio: You don't know me then. Right now I'm gonna tell him.
Reuben: Wanna make a bet, Nivio?
Nivio: Sure. How much? Twenty dinarii?
Reuben: Make it forty.
Titus: Nah, a barrel of wine would be better. When you lose,
we can all drink to our hearts' desire, as you drown these out of this
world ideas of yours in the sweetness of wine.
Reuben: Ha, ha... C'mon, there's no turning back. You'd better
Nivio: "I swear and I promise: and this bet is on, for a
barrel of wine."
This is the ultimate thing we'd like to happen in Capernaum! Nelson,
the son of Phanuel, took the bait and fell into the Nazarene's mousetrap!
Reuben: What'll your Dad say the moment he finds out?
Nivio: What the heck do I care? He lives his own, life. I live
my own too.
Reuben: What'll people say, Nivio! The landlord's son wants to
be in the service of a farmer who is half witch and half agitator?
Nivio: I don't care what you say, but this guy, Jesus, is different.
Golly, he's gutsy! All it takes is to listen to him.
Titus: Or better, to "smell him!" He reeks of onions
and whore's perfume!
Reuben: Birds of a feather.......
Titus: So, the Nazarene has given you the itch!
Nivio: Ha, I think you're all envious!
Reuben: What? We, envious? Ha, ha, ha.... No way! Hey, I'm happy
with my life.... I've got lots of servants and I don't have to work
Titus: Same here.
Nivio: I'm not, and I'm decided to change my life. I'd like to
do something great! I'll go see the prophet this afternoon, and go with
him to the capital and then......
Reuben: And then, go bathe yourself to remove the lice that you
will have picked up from that miserable prophet! Ha!
Titus: Look, Nivio, don't you understand? Oil will never mix
with water. Jesus is not of our kind. You're not of his kind either.
If you join him, of what good will it be?
Reuben: I don't know what's gotten into you, Nivio, but this
much I can tell you: wait till he picks on your father and the rich.....
and that'll be the time to say goodbye!
Nivio: This is what you think of him. But I do believe that Jesus
has an open mind. I'm sure he'll be delighted to see me. I can be useful
to him. I've got money, education, I've got....
Titus: And most of all, don't forget our bet!
Reuben: Right, and it's been decided: a barrel of wine! Do you agree,
Nivio: You bet, pals.
was the youngest son of Phanuel, one of the wealthy landlords in Capernaum.
He was tall and strong, never wanting in good food and elegant clothes,
and he went to the best school. He helped his father in the management
of their land, and he had plenty of time to spend with his friends...
That afternoon, he left his luxurious house and headed for the fishermen's
barrio, to a street by the sea....
Simon: C'mon, stupid. Jump!
Canilla: Tacatan, tacatan, tacatan.... hiyahh, horsey!
Little Simon: My little horsey jumps better than yours, look!
Ha, ha, ha!
Canilla: Now, it's my turn!
Nivio: Hey, kids, could you tell me where Jesus of Nazareth lives?
Little Simon: Pff...! Yeah, he's inside, fixing a door... Hey,
Moreno, someone's looking for you!
Jesus: Here I am! Who is it?
Little Simon: A young man!
was alone when Nivio came to the house. My mother was mending nets in
the wharf, and old Zebedee, my brother James and I were fishing at mid
sea, as always....
Say, aren't you one of Phanuel's sons, the landlord?
Nivio: Exactly! How did you know me?
Jesus: You know, in Capernaum one get's to know everyone.....
Well, this door is fixed..... Not even a hurricane can bring it down!......
What's your name?
Nivio: Nivio. I've been called by that name for eighteen years!
Jesus: Fine, Nivio... They say you're a nice person, in spite
of your father...
Nivio: Nonsense! The only good person there is in the city at
the moment is no one but you, Nazarene.
Jesus: Me? Why do you say that?
Nivio: Because you are. You and your group are the only ones
doing something so that things may change in our country.
Jesus: Well, the truth is, you wouldn't want things to change
in the country. They wouldn't suit you...
Nivio: Nothing of that sort. You're great, Jesus. I have always
Jesus: I have always said that the only great one is the Lord.
All of us push a nail here and there, put bricks one over the other,
and we simply do what we can....
Nivio: That's why I came to talk to you. I also want to put my
own brick and do my share in putting up the wall.
Nivio: Yeah. You're surprised, aren't you? Of course, I understand.
Imagine, the son of Phanuel! Please don't be misled by appearances,
Nazarene. You and I will get to understand each other, you will see...
Jesus: I hope so.... Come, sit over here..... and let's talk....
put the hammer and nails away and sat down on the floor. The landlord's
son did the same....
Everyone in the city talks of nothing except the journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus: What journey?
Nivio: What else? Your journey.
Jesus: Ah, of course...
Nivio: I also thought about it and made a decision: Count me
Jesus: Don't tell me, you've got the sting too....
Nivio: Can't go with you?
Jesus: But of course, man! You're welcome. Indeed, I'm glad.
I'm sure everyone will be pleased too.
Nivio: I hope so.... Okay, Jesus, let's go to the point. Exactly
what are we gonna do in Jerusalem? What are your plans? Tell me.
Jesus: Well.... the plan is to change everything.
Nivio: What everything?
Jesus: ......We're going to build a new heaven and earth where
everyone gives a hand, that all of us may smile and live in happiness....
What do you think of this plan?
Nivio: I like it. It seems like a beautiful plan.
Exactly, but in order to do it, there'll be a little problem... "in
order for those who have less to have more, those who have more should
Nivio: What was that you said?.... Seems like a tongue twister.
Jesus: No, it's something very simple. Listen! Why do some people
in Israel experience hunger? Because others eat twice as much. Why do
some children walk barefoot and half-naked in the street? Because others
have seven tunics and fourteen pairs of sandals kept in their chests.
Some of us carry only a grain of wheat in our pockets while others have
their barns filled to the brim. Do you understand, Nivio?
Nivio: Understand what?
Jesus: That the only way to fill up a cliff is to reduce a hill.
God's plan is to equalize, do you understand? What do you think of this?
Nivio: Sure, of course...... Okay, going back to the trip...
Tell me, how many are we going to Jerusalem?.... Many? Few?... Whom
have you invited?
Jesus: Look, we've invited everyone... but you know how people
are.... First, they say "yes, yes" then, later, they say "I
Nivio: That's right. People talk a lot, but that's all. Right,
Jesus: Precisely. We need people who are willing to work hard
and to push forward the Kingdom of God.
Nivio: Well, here I am putting my shoulder to the wheel, yes,
sir. As a matter of fact, and I'm not bragging, but since I was a child,
I was taught the commandments of God which I complied with. I have never
stolen in my life.
Jesus: Neither were you ever hungry......
Nivio: I have never killed anyone. Neither have I wished to do
Jesus: And neither have you felt the steward's lashing on your
Nivio: What? You don't believe me?.... Seriously, Jesus, I swear
I have never done wrong to anyone...
Jesus: You don't have to swear. I believe you. Of course....
Even the drones do nothing bad in the beehive....
Nivio: Ah, now I see what you're up to.... Well, in that case,
why don't you go out to the street and find out who in Capernaum has
given more alms than I.
Jesus: Who do you think can do that here, when everyone has a
hole in his own pocket?
Nivio: Well, yes, but..... going back to our trip.... Have you
decided on what we shall bring for the trip? I guess we'll have to bring
something, won't we?
Jesus: You don't have to worry about that, Nivio....
Nivio: If we have to buy something, feel free to tell me....
Jesus: To buy, no, but to sell, yes.
Nivio: To sell?....... To sell what?
Jesus: Everything. You've got to leave everything, to set your
stared at the hands of Phanuel's son. They were so smooth, unlike the
calloused and chapped hands of the poor. Then he lifted his eyes and
looked at him with sympathy....
Listen, Nivio. Moses too, grew up in a rich house. The pharaoh's daughter
fed him well, gave him the best clothes and sent him to the best school
in Egypt. But one day, Moses went down to visit his brothers and saw
an Egyptian foreman beating a Hebrew slave. Moses got so furious he
killed the foreman. He lost everything - his house and his comfortable
life. Left with nothing, he was persecuted by the pharaoh's guards.
Thus, he became worthy of his people. Then he was able to draw close
to the slave, like his equal, and call him brother, and help him to
be free. C'mon, Nivio, think about this, and come back later, so we
can discuss our trip....
Sure, I'll think about it, Jesus. I'll think about it....
looked at Jesus, not knowing what to say. Then he stood up from the
floor, shook his new tunic that became soiled, and left the house....
He was very sad.
Hey, Moreno, why did Phanuel's son come over?
Jesus: To teach me a game, Peter.
Peter: A game?
Jesus: Yeah...... Hey, Little Simon, come here.... run....
peeped through the door and called Peter's son who was playing in the
street with a group of children..
little Simon, what game are you playing?
Little Simon: Horsey -horsey. Tacatan, tacatan, tacatan....!
Jesus: Do you want to learn a new game?
Little Simon: Sure, sure, how is it?
Jesus: Listen. It's a camel's game. You are the camel. Let's
see. Get down on your fours..... like this.... See, you have a big hump
on your back... Do you see this needle?
joined his fingers to form a small circle....
Simon: So, what do I do now?
Jesus: Do you see this small hole? The camel should try to pass
through the needle's eye. If he succeeds, he wins. If not, he loses.
Simon remained staring at Jesus' hand. Then he stood up from the floor....
I don't like this game, Jesus. Bye! Tacatan, tacatan....!
Jesus: That was the game that Phanuel's son wanted to play. But
the camel will never pass through the needle's eye. Even children know
Reuben: I've got this feeling, Nivio, that today we'll drown
our sorrows in sweet wine!
Titus: "I swear, I promise, I declare..."
Reuben: ...and your bet was a barrel of wine! Ha, ha...!
Titus: Hey, Nivio, cheer up and let's toast to your silly head!
Ha, ha, ha...!
friends went inside his house, opened a barrel of wine and started to
drink and played jokes on him. The landlord's son, between gulps and
laughter, eventually forgot about the trip to Jerusalem.....
evangelical text, oftentimes used to illustrate the theme about vocation,
has disturbing ideas for the rich. We would say this is an account where
Jesus supposedly appears to be a "demagogue." The primitive
Christian tradition was faithful to Jesus' harsh criticism on wealth and
he never found any possible justification for those who had accumulated
wealth. The Holy Fathers of the Church were also "demagogue,"
when dealing with this topic: The gospel rightfully refers to excessive
wealth as "unjust," since it springs from no other than injustice
and one cannot possess it unless others else lose what they need or destroy
themselves. Thus, to me, a popular saying seems very correct: The rich
are rich on account of their own injustice or their inheritance of properties
unjustly acquired," as St. Jerome put it, four hundred years after
Christ (Epistle 120:1).
is what we would call today a "coffee table revolutionary."
What he feels is what is sometimes justly understood to be a "vocation":
An undefined restlessness to become a better person, to be of help to
others. In him, there is also some sort of a warped/mal-formed conscience
on one hand, and on the other, a desire to hobnob with Jesus, a leader
who wins people over and becomes important in the eyes of his followers.
is good to demythify the "rich young man." Sometimes he is pictured
as a good man, pure, honest, one who obeys all the commandments, but "not
fit for the religious life" because he is not courageous enough to
heed the "advice" of Jesus to sell everything and give it to
the poor. This is not the focus of the gospel. Jesus is not giving "advice"
to those who seek perfection. Jesus shows the rich young man the only
valid way to enter the Kingdom: through the experience of the poor - by
putting one's self in their place, sharing in their life, taking as their
own the cause of their liberation. It does not deal with an isolated bit
of advice, but with the whole project of life itself. The rich young man
has not committed great wrongs, but he has not done much good either.
His is a sin of omission. And when Jesus shows him where he has gone wrong
- in his lack of sensitivity for the poor - he continues to be blind,
to be obstinate in his own individualism, satisfied with his comfortable
callousness too frequently brought about by money among the rich and so
evident each day, is what brought Jesus to making this exaggerated analogy
of the camel and the needle. This phrase about the needle has nothing
to do with the shape of the opening of an oriental door (because of its
form), as it has often been said, in order to soften the comparison made
by Jesus. (It was said that this eye of oriental doors was very narrow,
but if the camel lowered his hump and bent a little, then he could pass...)
No, this comparison is about a sewing needle and a camel, the biggest
known animal in Palestine. A camel can never pass through this eye. Never.
With this exaggerated analogy, Jesus simply wants to say this: it is impossible,
unless God performs a miracle. These extreme analogies are, on the other
hand, typical of oriental expressions and Jesus frequently uses them to
be sure that the radical character of his message is not distorted.
"decency," his good deeds, are being questioned by Jesus, because
he was well-fed, well-educated, with a sure future. He had all the conveniences
to be good, had no need to steal or to feel constrained to violence. The
"morality" of some persons is no more than a luxury. Their economic
status not only allows them to live a good life, but also to be good,
besides being considered such by society. Meanwhile, for many people living
in misery, cheating, aggression and sometimes, prostitution or other forms
of "sin" are not vices, but the logical consequence of their
desperate situation or their only way of survival.
19:16-24; Mk 10:17-25; Lk 18:18-25)
from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 2 (Chapter
Copyright @ 1998 by Claretian Publications,
This book offers a
new approach to appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the
Chapter is in dialogue form in an up-to-date conversational language.
This makes the reader realize that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy,
a typical man in his time. The last part of each chapter contains an
explanation of the biblical references, thus giving one the perspective