Mark 10:17-31: The story of the rich young man presents us with a clear statement by Jesus on what isn’t required to enter the Kingdom of God. Unlike other passages where he speaks about what the Kingdom of God is like, this is about what it is not.
The first thing that can be noticed is that this young man ran up to Jesus as he was leaving the place he had been. For this man this was urgent, perhaps it was a question that had been bothering him for a long time or maybe there had been a sudden event that had pressed home the frailty of this life. We don’t know what motivated him but we do know it was important for him to get an answer before Jesus left.
The question he asks is one that all must ask: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But this is where the problems start for the man when he prefaces his question with “Good Teacher”, as if he was asking this question to just another Rabbi of the day. Jesus knows his heart and will not let him hold this view of who he was dealing with. Had he just said “Teacher” it might have passed but to add “Good” was as if he was trying to flatter the Rabbi to get the answer that he was hoping for. This is a reminder that Jesus can’t be approached as the world wants to meet him, as just another in a long line of wise teachers. He didn’t want anything to do with that sort of reverence.
This rich man had been raised well by his father. He knew the Law and had kept it to the letter but with that he was just a little too self-assured of his position in life. Somewhere in his appraisal of his soul’s state he was missing an objective view on one part of his life. Having kept all the commandments he was sure that he would be worthy enough to inherit eternal life. His wealth undoubtedly served as a testimony to the fact that he was a just man. The righteous are blessed with wealth, while the poor surely must have something hidden within them that separates them from God’s blessing. At least that’s what he had been led to believe! Jesus knew his heart and interestingly despite his deception as to how one inherits eternal life Jesus had a love for this man. Jesus saw something good there. Jesus always see the good in men because his love for us is perfect and never changing.
The reality of this man’s life is that he lacked one thing to enter God’s Kingdom. He was lacking a humble acknowledgement that all he had came from God and belonged to God, not to himself. His wealth was not his ticket into eternal life, nor was it a sure sign of God’s approval of his life. He had to give it all away to the poor and despised, then he had to follow Jesus by setting aside his status in society. For the wealthy this is difficult and Jesus knew it, but he also knew that if the man would allow faith to take hold in his heart he would be able to let go of what had become so important to him. Some of those following him had done so (Lk 8:3; Mt 27:60) and others would in the future (Act 4:34).
At this point everyone was struggling to understand this new teaching about the Kingdom. It didn’t fit their old paradigm in which God tangibly blesses the righteous. Peter is the first to grasp the reality of this new perspective on what it takes to inherit eternal life. He was excited to realize that as he had given up his fishing business and left his family to wander the Palestinian countryside he was on the right path to gaining his eternal inheritance. Jesus is quick to keep Peter’s excitement in check as he adds another twist to the new look of the Kingdom of God. This twist is that with “all the above” in Mark 10:29-30 will also come persecutions and a loss of position (Mk 10:31). All the disciples of that day would know the meaning of this teaching in just a few years (Acts 8:1).
Jesus pushed the disciples and all who were listening to the limit of their understanding of God’s Kingdom. These were, and are, hard sayings that are overlooked even today. Jesus still requires all-out commitment of his disciples. Nothing could come in the way of the young man if he wanted to follow Jesus. Even his wealth had to be abandoned if that was what it would take. Every person has something that he has to leave behind when he chooses to follow Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not a place for selfishness and personal aggrandizement. If we can’t let it go we may as well be like camel trying to get through the bedroom door!