October 10, 2021
Sunday between October 9 and October 15 inclusive
Proper 23, Ordinary Time 28
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 10:17-31, The Message or Mark 10:17-31, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Whereas last week I had to confess my conflict of interest in discerning the text was that I am divorced and re-married, this week I have to confess that I grew up relatively poor. Which of course means I am a completely neutral and impartial interpreter of Jesus' teachings about money (just kidding).
The text begins with a young man running up to Jesus, kneeling before him, and addressing him as "Good teacher." All 3 of these actions are done only by an inferior to a superior. And though they may not be meant as such, they are a challenge to Jesus' honour! How so?
By his birth, Jesus was born among the lowest of the low in his society. By birth, no one has a lower social standing than Jesus. And in Jesus' time it was completely shameful and dis-honourable to seek to acquire a higher status than one was born into. However, it was possible that OTHERS could hold you in higher honour and status.
But there is still one more step in the honour-dishonour dance. If/when others held you in higher honour, the only honourable response was humbleness, and rejecting any public displays of such honouring.
So when the man runs up and publicly honours Jesus, Jesus honourably rejects such honourific behaviour. Which of course immediately demonstrates what a wise and honourable person Jesus is. And thereby, raises his standing in the eyes of all who witnessed this.
When Jesus rejects the display of honour by quoting a seemingly innocent common saying, "No one is good but God alone," anyone with a dollar in their pocket should know that this isn't going to end well. Because if God alone is good, then all other goods are something other than good.
The man's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life," is also a warning.
Inheritances were received by virtue of family relationships, and were of interest only to those with enough wealth to have goods that could be passed from one generation to another. The only way to "inherit" eternal life is to be the eldest son of the one who owns eternal life. Everyone else can only receive eternal life as a freely given gift from the owner. This man is off to a bad start just by the way he has framed the question.
Notice that Jesus responds by putting the ball back in the man's court, "YOU know the commandments ..."
And indeed, the man does know the commandments, and has kept them all since his youth. This is actually quite a remarkable claim. Kept them ALL? Since his youth? One wonders if the bystanders didn't started laughing out loud and rolling in the aisles at such a claim.
But Jesus looks at and loves him. Such a look. Such a love.
And Jesus sees "the one thing missing." Anyone who thinks they "inherit" eternal life has to join the family of God.
Now Jesus sometimes tells those who want to follow him to go home. And no where else does he tell those who want to follow him that they have to sell all their possessions. But Jesus has looked at and loved this man, and has seen the one thing missing for him: putting aside all other goods for the One who alone is good.
Apparently Jesus hits the place of emptiness in this man, for he is shocked and leaves in grief.
Such a good teacher. If we imagine Jesus looking at and loving us, I wonder what is the "one thing missing" he would see. And what is it that he would ask us to do in order to finally be fully following him? Good questions.
In Verses 23-31, note that the disciples are as shocked as the man at Jesus' teachings. And note that although it is difficult and hard, it is not impossible for those with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God; and that while the first may be last, they are not tossed out of the line.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 190-192; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)
17 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?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 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.'" 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 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." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 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!" 24 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! 25 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." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 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, 30 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 10:17-31 (The Message)
17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?"
18 Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. 19 You know the commandments: Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, honor your father and mother."
20 He said, "Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!"
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, "There's one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me."
22 The man's face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
23 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" 24 The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: "You can't imagine how difficult. 25 I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for the rich to get into God's kingdom."
26 That set the disciples back on their heels. "Then who has any chance at all?" they asked.
27 Jesus was blunt: "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it."
28 Peter tried another angle: "We left everything and followed you."
29 Jesus said, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message 30 will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! 31 This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.