Let’s just take a look at some slightly odd things said in the first reading and in the Gospel. In the first reading Sirach said, “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High? No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.”
What is that nether world he wrote about? It sounds different from hell. And, it was. Two hundred years before Christ Jews didn’t have a notion of a hell of fire. What they believed in was a subterranean cavern called Sheol, and they imagined the shadows (or shades) of the dead to be idling away eternity there.
An odd thing in the Gospel is Jesus saying, “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.” I heard a TV preacher explain that statement by telling us that Jerusalem’s wall had one gate that was known as the Needle’s Eye, and it was difficult for a large camel to get in through it. For anyone who believes that ever statement in the Bible is literally true that is a fine explanation. The only trouble with it is that there is no gate in Jerusalem’s wall called the Needle’s Eye.
The fact is that Jesus often used hyperbole or wild exaggerations to get his point home. Like, in a Gospel last week we read how Jesus said, “If you eye causes you to sin pluck it out.” Now, it would go against the commandments for anyone to pluck his own eye out.
In the thirties there was a popular novelist called James Hilton. He wrote the novel “Lost Horizons” which introduced the village of Shangrila. Another novel of his, “Without Armor” followed the fortunes of a large group of White Russians fleeing south from the Bolsheviks at the time of the Russian evolution in 1917. The people had nothing but contempt for one of their number who had plucked an eye out after looking at something he shouldn’t have looked at. They felt any sensible person should recognize the times Jesus was exaggerating.