The Young Rich Man

To follow Jesus means surrendering one’s entire life and following wherever he leads, and no questions asked – Mark 10:17-31. 

One day, a young rich man approached Jesus to ask what he should do to inherit everlasting life. Here, the reader is confronted with the cost of discipleship. In the story’s version found in Matthew, this man is labeled “young.” In Luke, he is a “ruler,” presumably, of the local synagogue. And his haste to ask his question points to his sincerity.

Wealth by rupixen.com on Unsplash
[Wealth by rupixen.com on Unsplash]

And in the gospel of 
Mark, this is the first instance where Jesus is said to love someone and the first recorded case of anyone asking Christ HOW TO INHERIT EVERLASTING LIFE.

  • (Mark 10:17-22) – “And as he was going forth into a road, one running and kneeling before him was questioning him: Good Teacher! What shall I do that life everlasting I may inherit? And Jesus said to him: Why do you call me, good? None is good, save one, God. The commandments you know; do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal; do not bear false witness, do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. And he said to him, Teacher! All these things have I kept from my youth. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him: One thing is wanting. Withdraw! Whatsoever you have, sell and give to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come! Be following me. And he, becoming gloomy because of the word, departed sorrowing, for he was holding many possessions.

SELL ALL THAT YOU HAVE!


In the Greek sentence, the pronoun rendered “me” is emphatic - (“Me!? Why do you call me good?”). According to his own words, this young man has kept the requirements of the Law diligently. But despite his obedience, something is deficient in his standing before God, or at least, in his mind. He is unsettled about his relationship with the Lord.

Jesus directs him to the one God who alone is good. The second half of his response can be translated “No one is good except the one God.” Life’s ultimate purpose is to love Him. And in his response, Jesus demonstrates how one does this very thing, by forsaking all and following His anointed one.

Christ does not dispute the man’s claim that he has kept the Law in all points. But something deeper than keeping the regulations and the rituals of the Torah is required for attaining everlasting life.

The commandments listed by Jesus are from the “second” half of the Decalogue which deals with relations between men such as the commandment not to steal. And each of the last five is a negative prohibition - Do NOT kill. Do NOT covet. Etc.

By telling the rich man to give all his possessions to the poor, Jesus shows the positive and ultimate way to fulfill the commandments – by acts of kindness and mercy to others.

He uses the phrase “do not defraud,” not the more original “do not covet.” As a man who is rich, perhaps coveting is not much of a temptation. However, defrauding the poor is a common practice among the rich of Judean society.

In this case, the one essential thing needed for this man to “inherit everlasting life” is to forsake all that he owns and follow Jesus.

The rich and the poor alike are called to follow him whatever the cost. But here, that means the surrender of all material goods. The rich man has kept the Law, but by itself, THAT IS INSUFFICIENT.

What he lacks is a total commitment to Jesus. And his failure to do what Jesus asks demonstrates his deficiency by his walking away from the Messiah of Israel.

TO FOLLOW HIM


How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” Jesus does not say it is “impossible.” The young man has assumed that receiving “everlasting life” requires great human effort and deeds of righteousness.

  • (Mark 10:23-31) – “And looking around, Jesus says to his disciples: With what difficulty shall they who have money enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were in amazement because of the words. But Jesus, again answering, says to them: Children! How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel through the eye of a needle to pass than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And they were being exceedingly struck with astonishment, saying to him: Who, then, can be saved? Looking at them, Jesus says: With men, impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God. Peter began to say to him: Lo! We have left all and followed you! Jesus said: Verily, I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who shall not receive a hundredfold, now, in this season, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the age that is coming, everlasting life. But many shall be first last, and the last first.

Now, Jesus uses hyperbole for effect. The image of a camel passing through a needle’s eye presents a physical impossibility, and this stresses the inability of human effort to achieve everlasting life.

Our wealth, status, knowledge, wisdom, good deeds, and righteousness are all insufficient in the end.

THE REAL ISSUE


Jesus does not categorically condemn wealth or possessions. In the gospel accounts, not every wealthy individual is required to sell everything he has. Here, he focuses on this man’s real problem: his attachment to material wealth that prevents him from doing the one thing necessary to enter the kingdom - TO FOLLOW JESUS NO MATTER THE COST.

Wealth - Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash
[Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash]

Jesus promises that everyone who gives up everything to follow him will receive “
a hundredfold” in this life. Often overlooked is the inclusion of the one “negative” item in his list – “persecutions.”

Neither the gospel message nor this promise is a guarantee that disciples will not experience hardship for the sake of the Kingdom, including economic loss and persecution.

Previously, Jesus made clear that to gain his life a disciple must first lose it in service to the kingdom. “Greatness” in his domain is measured by service to others:

  • If anyone wills to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and be following me. For whoever wills to save his own life shall lose it, but whoever shall lose his life for my sake and that of the gospel, shall save it.”

The final declaration - “Many who are first will be last, and last, first” - is the classic description in the gospels of the final Reversal of Fortune.

At the Judgment, many will be surprised when they discover who receives the greatest reward, as well as who loses the most. On that day, human expectations will be reversed, and in very surprising ways.



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