SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31
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VERSES 17-22: TEACHER, WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?
17As he was going out into the way (Greek: hodon), one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" 18Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder,' 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not give false testimony,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and mother.'" 20He said to him, "Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth." 21Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross."22But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions.
We think of this man as the Rich Young Ruler, but Mark identifies him only as a man who had many possessions -- and mentions his possessions only at the conclusion of this encounter (v. 22). Matthew says that he is young (19:20), and Luke identifies him as a ruler (18:18).
The man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. As a rich man, he has probably received an inheritance from his father. He is rich in this life, and wants to extend his prosperity into eternity.
Jesus rebukes the man for calling him, "Good Teacher." Jesus is, indeed, good, but he points this man to God's goodness.
"You know the commandments" (v. 19). Jesus cites five commandments from the second table of the Decalogue -- and one that is not part of the original ten -- all having to do with human relationships:
"Do not defraud," is not part of the Ten Commandments. Jesus substitutes it for "You shall not covet" -- the tenth commandment. It makes sense that he should do so, because a rich man is less likely to covet the possessions of others than he is to defraud people in the pursuit of further wealth.
The rich man responds, "Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth" (v. 20). Jesus does not challenge his answer. Note, however that Jesus did not mention commandments one through four -- having to do with service to God.
So it seems that, in verse 19, Jesus listed only commandments that this rich man would find easy. The man says that he has kept them, and he may have -- but commandments having to do with relationships to God represent a higher level of discipleship -- one where this man is deficient. Now, Jesus tells the man what he must do to bring himself into compliance with the first and second commandments.
"One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross" (v.21). "How profoundly ironic is the Kingdom of God. The children in the former story who possess nothing are not told that they lack anything, but rather that the Kingdom of God is theirs; yet this man who possesses everything still lacks something! Only when he sells all he has -- only when he becomes like a vulnerable child -- will he possess everything" (Edwards, 312).
This is a shocking call to discipleship. In most cases, Jesus called people to discipleship by saying simply, "Come after me". He did not require the fishermen to sell their boats (1:17).
Why then should Jesus demand such sacrifice from this man? There are at least two possibilities:
• As this story reveals, this man's wealth is very important to him. Jesus wants to turn his attention away from his possessions and toward God.
• Note too that this story follows immediately after the story of the children in which Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it" (10:15). The rich man is quite unlike those children. They had no status or power, but he has both. Perhaps Jesus is simply requiring the rich man to become like a child before God.
"But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions" (v. 22). We, too, should be shocked when we hear this story. The only cheap grace is for children who have nothing to give (10:13-16).
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VERSES 23-27: FOR GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE
23Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, "How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!"24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answered again, "Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel (Greek: kamelon) to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." 26They were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus, looking at them, said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God."
"How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!" Jesus states (v. 23) and then re-states this (v. 24), perplexing the disciples (v. 23). They have been taught that wealth is a sign of God's approval, so how can it be difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God?
"It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God" (v. 25). People sometimes try to soften Jesus' words about the eye of a needle by suggesting that the word should be "rope" instead of "needle" -- or that the "eye of the needle" was a low gate in the city wall -- but there is no justification for either of these explanations. Jesus is using hyperbole, exaggerated language, to make a point. "To try to domesticate this language does Jesus no favor" (Williamson, 184).
The disciples ask the obvious question, "Then who can be saved?" If this decent, God-fearing, law-abiding man, whom God has blessed with riches, cannot be saved, who can? Listen carefully to the answer. "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God" (v. 27). Apart from grace, this decent, God-fearing, law-abiding man has no hope. The same is true for all of us.
This passage also warns us of the seductiveness of wealth. It is also true that we need not be wealthy to have our hearts and souls consumed by thoughts of money. We are all in danger of loving money more than God.
VERSES 28-31: LOOK, WE HAVE LEFT EVERYTHING AND FOLLOWED YOU
28Peter began to tell him, "Behold, we have left all, and have followed you." 29Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, 30but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last; and the last first."
"Behold, we have left all, and have followed you" (v. 28). Peter and the disciples have already done what Jesus told this rich man to do. They have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Peter's implied question is, "Will we receive any reward? Jesus makes it clear that those who sacrifice for his sake will be rewarded both now and in eternity.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV -- Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Donahue, John R. and Harrington, Daniel J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002)
Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Evans, Craig A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27 -- 16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001)
Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001)
Grant, Frederick C. and Luccock, Halford E., The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Hooker, Morna D., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991)
Lane, William L., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Williamson, Lamar Jr., Interpretation: Mark (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983)
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