To follow Jesus is to surrender one’s entire life to him, and to walk wherever he leads with 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 version in Matthew, the man is labeled “young.” In Luke, he is a “ruler,” presumably, of the local synagogue. And his haste to ask this question points to his sincerity.
Sell All that you have. In Mark, this is the first instance where Jesus is said to have loved someone. And this is 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.”
In the Greek sentence, the pronoun “me” is emphatic – (“Me!? why do you call me good?”). According to his own words, the young man kept the commandments of the Law diligently. But despite his obedience, something was deficient in his standing before God.
Jesus directed him to the one God who alone is good. The second half of his response can be translated as “No one is good except the one God.” Life’s ultimate purpose is to love Him. And in his response, Jesus demonstrated how one does this very thing, by forsaking all and following His anointed one.
Christ did not dispute this man’s claim to have kept the Law in all points. But something deeper than keeping the regulations and the rituals of the Torah was required to acquire everlasting life.
The commandments listed by Jesus are from the “second” half of the Decalogue that dealt with relations between men such as the command not to steal. Each of the last five is a negative prohibition – Do NOT kill. Do NOT covet.
By telling the rich man to give all his possessions to the poor, Jesus demonstrated the positive and ultimate way to fulfill the commandments – by acts of kindness and mercy to others.
Jesus used the phrase “do not defraud,” not the more original “do not covet.” As a man who was rich, perhaps coveting was not much of a temptation. However, defrauding the poor was the common practice among the rich of Judean society. In this case, the one essential thing needed for this man to “inherit everlasting life” was to forsake all that he owned and follow Jesus.
The rich and the poor alike are called to follow Jesus whatever the cost and wherever he leads. But in this case, that meant the surrender of all material goods. The rich man had kept the Law, but by itself, that was insufficient. What he lacked was total commitment to Jesus. And his failure to do what Jesus asked demonstrated his deficiency since he walked away from the Messiah of Israel.
TO FOLLOW HIM. “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” Jesus did not say that it is “impossible.” The young man had assumed that receiving “everlasting life” required 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.”
Here, Jesus used hyperbole for effect. The image of a camel passing through a needle’s eye presents a physical impossibility to stress the inability of human effort to achieve everlasting life. Our wealth, status, knowledge, wisdom, good deeds, and righteousness all prove insufficient in the end.
Jesus did not categorically condemn wealth or possessions. In the gospel accounts, not every wealthy individual was required to sell everything that he had. Here, he focused on this man’s real problem: his attachment to material wealth. His riches prevented him from doing the one thing necessary for him to enter the kingdom – To follow Jesus no matter the cost.
Jesus promised that everyone who gave up everything to follow him would 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 from 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 the last day, human expectations will be reversed, and in very surprising ways.