Being a fan of nativity sets, I was pretty sure that camels would be included in the story of the Three Wise Men. But they aren’t, specifically. We just assume that these beasts of burden that we find in lots of Old Testament stories would have been the mode of transportation for the Magi. Actually, none of the 65 instances where camels are mentioned in the Bible occurs in the story of these travelers from the East.
There is, however, one place in several gospels where Jesus mentions a camel:
16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. 19 Honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[c] what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[d] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
The commentators soften this a little when they suggest that there was a gate in Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle, and so maybe Jesus was talking about a task that was difficult, but not impossible. We would probably do well to use this camel story to talk about God’s amazing grace in redeeming us.
Wonderful God, as I dream of the ones who probably rode on camels to seek out their Savior, I too wish to bow in homage. And as I then realize that the whole purpose of the coming of God in human flesh is to give me the gift of salvation, I fall on my knees in thanks. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.