Christ Encounter #2: Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22)

ChristEncounters2Please join us for a summer series of studies in some of the most well-known encounters with Christ in the Gospels. Each study will provide (1) initial Observations & Questions from the text, (2) followed by some Exegesis & Interpretation, (3) concluding with some personal Application questions and considerations.

SCRIPTURE: Matt 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-30

I. Observations/Questions

1. What kind of a “ruler” is this young man?  Does this title tell us anything important?

2. What is meant by “eternal life”?

3. What is the significance of the discussion of what is “good”?

4. Is there a significance to the specific commands Jesus mentions and the ones he leaves out?

5. Is Jesus suggesting one can earn eternal life by keeping the commandments?  What’s he up to here?

6. Why does Jesus tell him to sell everything and give to the poor in order to follow him?  Is this a universal requirement for all disciples?

7. Why is it so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God?

8. What is Jesus’ primary challenge or message to the rich young man?

II. Exegesis/Interpretation

His motives seem pure.  His question is clear.  This young man, who Luke tells us is a “ruler” of some kind — most likely holding position in Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin — wants to be sure he is in good standing with God.  His high commitment to keeping the Law may indicate he is also a Pharisee.  His question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Please note that despite our tendency to label this guy in the camp of someone trying to “earn” salvation by meritorious works, the text does not seem to say this much.  This line of reasoning has to be read back into the text from a 16th century Reformation-era framework.  The text seems to merely introduce a good and decent Jewish man who loves God, desires eternal life and wants to be sure he is being as faithful and obedient as he ought to be.  So, again, he’s wondering, What is necessary to receive the inheritance every faithful Jew in Jesus’ day desired?

rich%20young%20ruler%202The discussion about what is “good” is perplexing and most likely is intended as a way of humbly anchoring the conversation in a respectful, reverence for the only One who is truly good, God himself.  In comparison to God, all of our attempts at righteous obedience fall short, even when we are very devout in our faith as this young claims to be.

In typical Jewish fashion, Jesus asks the man if he is a Torah-keeping Jew — for this is how God’s people demonstrated their covenant faithfulness and loyalty to God.  Jesus mentions five commandments from the second half of the Decalogue as representative of them all, with Matthew and Luke adding the second of the two greatest commands to “Love your neighbor” (cf. Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40).   The man replied, “I have kept all of these since my youth.”

Why did Jesus leave out the first of the greatest commands to love the Lord above all and have no other gods before Him? Perhaps this was intentional as Jesus knows quite well that this man has one god before Him, and that god is his Wealth.  Mark’s Gospel is quite charming at this point as we can vividly picture the scene: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor… (Mark 10: 21)”

This uncompromising challenge by Jesus goes to the heart of this young man’s primary obstacle preventing him from becoming a fully committed follower of Jesus and participant in the Kingdom of God Jesus is inaugurating.  And remember that Jesus’ strong demand for sacrifice comes precisely because he “loved him.”  God knows our hearts and sees better than we which otherwise good things (i.e., wealth was understood as a blessing from God) in our life that nevertheless prevent us from embracing what’s still better or best (i.e., God & the Kingdom).

This is no universal demand for a St. Francis vow of voluntary poverty.  The universal demand Jesus places upon all who would follow him is that they would “Seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness” and not have any gods before him.  Jesus’ bold challenge to the rich young man should not surprise us coming from the one who says elsewhere, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24). The “good teacher” is merely practicing what he preaches.

Anyway you look at it, this story has a palpably sad and tragic ending to it.  This young devout man of the Book, who seems to genuinely desire eternal life, is ultimately unwilling to let go of the things (his wealth and riches) that prevent him from wholeheartedly embracing God’s Kingdom and following Jesus as his only master.  “Shocked at [Jesus’] statement, the man went away sad because he had many possessions” (Mark 10: 22).

This encounter is not primarily about wealth and money, but the power every kind of idolatry exercises over the human heart and the sold-out commitment required of those who would truly embrace the life of discipleship in the Kingdom.

III. Application

1. God sees into each of our hearts and knows very well “the one thing still lacking.”  What might that be for you and I?  We all have our own idols that sneak their way in between us and God.  What personal idols do we serve — knowingly or unknowingly? Success?  Status?  Security?  Fear?  Body image?  Sports?  Popularity?  Etc.

2. In what ways have we watered down the true cost of discipleship?  What have we given up for the sake of the Kingdom?  Are we willing to give up what we hold most dear and precious for the Kingdom?

3. There is a great exchange and pay off to look forward to.  Are we trading treasures on earth for even greater treasure in heaven?  How does this eternal promise make sacrifice easier to handle?

4. What would a modern-day retelling of this parable sound like?  Consider writing your own, 21st century American version of this story.

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