Summary: All things are possible with God, but those who set their hearts on riches will be sadly disappointed.
SHARP WORDS SPOKEN BY LOVE
The first three Gospels all report Jesus’ encounter with the character who has become known by the composite name of ‘the rich young ruler’. They all mention that he was ‘rich’ (as in Mark 10:22), but only Matthew mentions that he was ‘young’ (Matthew 19:22), and only Luke mentions that he was ‘a ruler’ (Luke 18:18). This man came running to Jesus and knelt before Him as a supplicant.
Yet his question assumed that the only way that he might “inherit” eternal life was by “doing” something. It may come as news to some, but an inheritance is not ‘earned’. The Giver gives the Gift, and the recipient receives it!
The fact that Jesus is a “good teacher” (Mark 10:17) had first appeared when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:46-47). To the supplicant, however, Jesus re-joined, “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but God” (Mark 10:18). This seems to imply that the young man was speaking out of turn, about things which he did not yet fully comprehend.
Now this man seemed to have had everything going for him: he was rich; he was a ruler; and, in his own eyes, he was upright (Mark 10:19-20). How poorly, it seems, do we know our own hearts. However, God knows them better than we do ourselves (cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10)!
The man claimed to have kept all the commandments Jesus had selected, including an additional one about not defrauding. Had the rich man, perhaps, some issues with Korban (cf. Mark 7:11-12)? At least by the time of his reply, the young man had dropped the pretension of understanding Jesus’ goodness.
Any sharpness that there may have been in Jesus’ voice was now probably dissipated by the tenderness of His pity. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mark 10:21). Surely a look to break the hardest of hearts: as should the very thought that He loves us!
“One thing you lack,” continued Jesus. Sometimes there is just “one thing” standing between us and what is best for us, as is shown in the story of Martha (cf. Luke 10:41-42). For the young man, his one thing was his riches (Mark 10:21).
Not that everyone who is rich is told, like Barnabas, to sell all and give to the poor (Acts 4:36-37). While the riches are yours, it is up to you how you dispose of them. All the Scripture asks is that you listen to God and that, unlike Ananias and Sapphira, you be honest with Him (cf. Acts 5:4).
Love of riches might trap us into denying God, whereas poverty might be used as an excuse to steal and thus profane His name: so, ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ concludes the wise man (Proverbs 30:8-9). Perhaps the rich man should learn to be more like the Apostle Paul - ‘…I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:11-13). But this “cross” was too much for the young man to bear, and he went away sad (Mark 10:22).
Interestingly Gamaliel warned the Sanhedrin against potentially resisting a work of God (Acts 5:38-39). Jesus warned Gamaliel’s student, Saul of Tarsus (who later became the Apostle Paul) against ‘kicking against the goads’ (Acts 26:14) - which was a Greek expression inferring resistance to God. I believe in the efficacy of Jesus’ love (Mark 10:21), and just wonder whether this young man ever did (like Paul) come to his senses?
A second time we see that “look” of Jesus: “Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God’” (Mark 10:23). “Children,” continued Jesus, in a term of familiarity and affection, “how hard it is for THOSE WHO TRUST IN riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…” (Mark 10:24-25).
“Who then can be saved?” asked the disciples (Mark 10:26). They were astounded: they obviously bought into the common culture which suggests that riches are a sign of God’s approval. A third “look” said, “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27; cf. Luke 1:37).
Yet Peter, as the disciples’ spokesman, still wanted to draw attention to what they had all DONE (Mark 10:28). Jesus cut him short with the reassurance that what anyone has given up for the cause of Christ will be restored a hundredfold (Mark 10:29-30). We find a new family among God’s people with God as our Father, lands, (and persecutions!) - and receive the free gift of eternal life besides.