“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
What we have can mess up what we might become. Does this mean we have to give up all of our possessions and become so poor we have to live out on the streets and beg? Of course not. But when possession become more important than following Jesus’ example, something has to give and go. Jesus saw into the heart of the young man, and saw there a love and need of possessions and position that would not make room for the message that Jesus brought.
How do I know this? Well, to be honest, my interpretation is based on bible commentators, who were not actually there. It is also based on translations made by scholar, who actually, were not there either. But it is also based on the writer of Mark him/herself. We can assume that the writer of Mark (or the person who told this story of Jesus to the writer of Mark) know or knew of the young man. How else would he know that the man had many possessions. Jesus might have known him or known of him too, because Jesus says that this man knows the commandments. And the young man does; so perhaps not only is this man wealthy but educated. And the young man is hoping that his position, education, and wealth qualify him for eternal life. But what humanity values in this life is not of the same value to Jesus.
“Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Verses 23 – 27)
I have to wonder if the disciples meant “if a rich person who has the ability to do and get everything cannot be saved, what chance do us poor schmucks have?” I do not think you would find a bible commentator who put forth that opinion – I looked. Jesus both challenges them and reassures them that, while humanity cannot save it self, God can. That means of course that a rich person and a poor person have an equal chance of entering into heaven. So if your bank account is larger, or if it is small, you still need the saving power of Christ Jesus.
“Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Verses 28-31)
It would have been nice if the RCL scripture selection had ended at verse 27. What are we to make of these last few verses? Peter is trying to explain that, like the camel going through the eye of the needle, they have set aside all attachments and possessions. They travel with nothing, being separated from family and home, comforts and connections. Like the rich young man, the disciples look and think back on what they have left behind.
Was it enough, I wonder, this promise of restoration of what they lost and even greater rewards to come? The bible tells us they continued to travel with Jesus. And most continued to follow out of belief and devotion. Some of the disciples were tested, and some failed the test. But what matters to us, beloved reader, is that we may have to leave behind the things we love – whether it be possession or family – in order to follow Jesus. Will we, you and I, risk being last hoping that we might end up being first? Shalom as you think on these things.