Through the Eye of a Needle Lesson

The Rich Man: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” -Mark 10:17-30

When we read this passage to our children the first thing that will draw them in is the word: camel. In America a camel is considered an uncommon animal one we would see at a zoo. Its uncommonness makes it seem so fascinating to children of all ages. Before going into the Gospel Reading let us take a moment and learn about the camel. We’ll begin by talking about the Arabian Camel also known as a Dromedary. This is the species of camel most likely to have been used in this parable. The National Geographic website has a great animal bio of the Arabian Camel. (Access requires an email membership) for a free access site you can have the children read about Arabian Camels. For Homeschoolers use these Camel Notebooking Pages to add to your life science lessons for the week. These pages make for an easy animal report after reading from the websites above.

Here is a cute Camel Maze and make your own quick stand up camel, or get crafty and make an origami camel or a TP tube camel.

The second item of interest in this Gospel is the “needle”. We have learned that Jesus was using a parable to teach a lesson. A great hands on activity is to get some needles and different weights of thread to see how easy or difficult it is to thread a needle. You can demonstrate this yourself to your children if you are concerned that they may injure themselves trying this activity. The simplest way to demonstrate the difficulty of threading a needle is to thread a needle. I joke but really it is tricky. Using embroidery floss is a great example. Embroidery floss comes in a thread made up of 6 different threads. Embroiders use either one thread or any multiple of them to do their handiwork. Using the bundle as it comes from the skein would be very difficult to pass through the eye of a needle. If you were to remove one strand of thread then you will find it much easier to pass through the needle.

We have spoken about how Jesus frequently used parables, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, in his ministry. These stories about everyday life were intended to catch the attention of the people in the crowds. People love to hear stories and were very inclined to listen to what the storyteller had to say. This Gospel of Mark 10:17-31 is a great example of a parable. I found this adorable book The Gospel Told by the Animals by Benedicte Delelis at Spiritual Treasures. It happened to have the story about the overburdened camel. We read this story to our kids as well as using our Catholic Children’s Bible to read the Gospel.

When we hear this Gospel today we may have to take a moment and decipher what Jesus was saying. Our children asked “Is Jesus really talking about a sewing needle?” How tremendous for there to be so many meanings! Tradition tells us that the ‘eye of the needle’* was a small, narrow gate into the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a very old city in today’s time. In Jesus’ time it was a very old city. A city that had seen much battle which made it imperative to build tall strong walls around it to protect its people. To prevent massive amounts of invaders from taking an easy siege the gates through the walls were not very big. In order for camels to make it through the gate they would have to be rid of their loads because they are too tall to fit through the gate. The person would have to tie these things together with rope. The camels would have to crouch to lower themselves to get through the opening, often reluctant to obey their leader. The load would be dragged along behind the person until they reached the other side. Once through the dromedary would be re-packed with their load. It was a slow and tedious process but one that everyone knew had to be done to enter Jerusalem. To the rich young man and the disciples, Jesus was asking them to trust in God, not anything else, for entrance into his kingdom. God can change our hearts to make the impossible possible. We have to let our love for God change us to be the kind of person who gets into Heaven.

Ask the children: Can we learn something from that camel? If we want to enter eternal life why should we be like that camel? Be a camel who lowers ourselves on our knees in prayer and humility, rid ourselves of baggage hindering our spiritual growth, and faithfully follow our Master through the gate to the other side trusting His guidance. I have created a simple activity to go along with this parable: Pass a Camel Through the Needle’s Eye.

“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

After seeing how a sewing needle works let’s try something a bit different but illustrating the same concept. Give the children a sheet of copier machine paper and a pair of scissors. It’s challenge time. Ask the children: “Can you make a hole in this piece of paper large enough for you to fit through?” Tell the children that they may only use scissors to complete this task. No tape, glue, staples, or additional tools etc. can be used. Allocate time for the children to come up with their best ideas, encourage team work. After a while when you see they are becoming weary with their task it’s time for them to show you their solutions. Did any of the children make a hole large enough? What were their complaints? (I’m sure there were plenty, especially if the children were older.) Any interesting ideas?

With your piece of paper and scissors demonstrate how you can climb through a hole in a sheet of paper by cutting a large loop. For homeschoolers this lesson can count as a math lesson about perimeter. (“For any given area, there is a minimum size for the perimeter (edge), but no maximum.”) 

The point of this lesson is to remind the children that the paper did not change. It is still paper. Its shape is the only thing that changed. In answer to Peter’s question:  “Who then can be saved?” we already know.  God shows no partiality; God offers salvation to everyone.

Saints Feast Days to learn about for the week:

* There have been some historical discussions about this traditional reference to a small sized gate into Jerusalem. An interesting linguistic discussion can be found at Biblical Hebrew where possible translation problems may have encouraged some misinterpreted understandings. There are many small gates that could have been an inspiration for this understanding of the parable. Nevertheless, it does not and should not distract from the intended meaning. The parable’s meaning still stands whether it refers to a small gate or sewing needle: Jesus knows how hard it is for us to get rid of any distractions that separate us from God, riches being one of them.

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