Rich (Young) Man: Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30
For the sake of brevity,this study will focus only on Mark’s account.
This study will be shared in three separate posts.
Part I (This post) – What does it say?
Part II – What does it mean?
Part III – How does it apply to me?
The Rich Ruler in the Bible
It is important to determine the tone of the question.
So what was the tone of this question?
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 NIV)
- Was the man humbly seeking guidance on how to inherit eternal life?
- Was the man testing Jesus?
- Was the man twisting the question in such a way as to receive personal affirmation?
How you answer that question significantly impacts how you interpret Jesus’ answer to the man.
What does the law say?
Jesus perceives that this is a learned man. The man is seeking affirmation for what he already knows. It does not appear as though he is looking for a new perspective on life and salvation. The intent is to be affirmed in what he already knew, not to be given a new discipleship task.
Jesus looked and loved him.
When Jesus looks he does not just see, but he peers deeply. When he looks he knows the inward workings of our heart. Jesus loved him because he is a man full of compassion. Jesus knew that he was going to challenge some of the deep assumptions of this man.
Sell everything and give to the poor.
In some ways, this teaching is new. Jesus has not made a habit of standing in public places requesting the sale of personal belonging. He has not, up to this point, made it a binding requirement of discipleship. As such, we could call this a personalized teaching based on what Jesus saw when he looked into the man.
In fact, later in Mark Jesus will defend a woman who did not sell her possessions and give them to the poor.
It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. (Mark 14:5 NIV)
She used her money in love and service to Jesus, and for this woman her conduct was worthy of Jesus’ affirmation. Her heart was right before Jesus. Yet, for this Rich Man Jesus does not demand he sell his items and buy him expensive perfume.
The call of Jesus is often personalized based on what he knows challenges our allegiance to him.
Then come follow me.
For this rich man, the following cannot happen until the selling is done. Step One: remove your current master (money). Step Two: appoint a new master (Jesus). The man is already following wealth and he cannot follow Jesus until that matter is properly retired through the act of selling.
He went away sad.
The man knew he was giving up a valuable treasure – the kingdom of God and fellowship with Jesus Christ. He would not have mourned if he did not understand what he was in the process of losing.
Jesus put two choices clearly before the man – Mammon or God. These two masters were constantly competing. You can only have one and the other will be lost. Because of his great wealth he chose Mammon instead of God.
His disciples were amazed.
If this guy can’t do it, who can?
Imagine yourself as a human resource director and you find the guy or gal with the perfect resume, the right skill set, and impressive employment experience. You present this individual to the boss and the boss says, ‘not good enough’. Not good enough? If this person is not good enough, no one is. This is how the disciples feel. They think Jesus has set the standard too high. As a result, finding worthy disciples will be impossible.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Comfort, dependence, trust. If you are comfortable it will be hard for God to use you – you won’t want to move. If you have wealth you probably find it easier to depend on yourself. The wealthy often trust only in themselves.
Jesus’ words are plain and simple. Don’t get into the application stage just yet. Let Jesus’ words stand alone. It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom. They enjoy comfort in this world. They depend only on themselves. When they need something, their riches provide it. Thus, wealth is often worthy of trust.
Plain and simple – it is hard (actually, really not metaphorically) for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Who then can be saved?
Again, this guy (who has the perfect resume) is sent away sad. He is exempt from participating in God’s kingdom. This is serious stuff. Who can be saved?
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 NIV)
Salvation is the work of God. If a man tries to earn or obtain salvation this task will be impossible. Salvation is the work of God, not the work of man. Salvation, thus, requires that one will trust and depend on God. The very characteristics that the wealthy find difficult.
God is in control; we, the wealthy, are not in control.
God will provide; we the wealthy, cannot provide all our needs.
Ultimately, here Jesus is disagreeing with the traditional understanding that man can do something for salvation. While this Young Man believed salvation was attainable by following the teachings, Jesus correctly asserts that salvation is possible only by trust and dependence on God.
We have left everything.
In contrast to the Rich Man these disciple have left everything. As such, Jesus speaks of positive rewards in the age to come, eternal life. The disciples stand in direct contrast to the Rich Man.
Though the disciples left everything, the result was that they gained even more.
While the rich man went away sad, the disciples received a greater joy.
God will take care of us, wealth cannot.
First will be last.
This story is about the great reversal. Those lifted up today will be torn down. Those already rewarded will be brought low. Those who are last will finally be made first.
This story is a continuation of the theme in Mark 10:13-16 about the children coming to Jesus. We must enter the kingdom like children – in full trust and dependence.
We use a term called calculated risk. We hedge our bets. Children go all in and they often don’t think of all the consequences. They are naive. God calls us to be like children.
Though the rich ruler stood first, he now stands last. The disciples (who we might imagine to be last) now appear to be first.
So in this story we encounter the ultimate flaw of humanity. We try to earn what can only be received – salvation. We also learn our natural tendency to hold on to the wrong things and give up the most meaningful things of life.