Forming Faith Blog

Loving the Rich Man (Mark 10)

When approached by a rich man, Jesus responds to this Torah-following person with love and a call: to be his disciple. But for the man, the cost is too high.

Gold objects like the rich man might have had.
Photo by Pixabay on

Lent has begun, and with it we have moved from a focus on Jesus’ power and authority to a call to live into God’s kingdom—to answer the call to serve.

What Must I Do?

As Jesus was setting out on a road—presumably continuing his last journey to Jerusalem—a man runs up to Jesus, kneels, and asks a question. We do not yet know that he is rich, just that he is eager (or desperate) to ask this Good Teacher a question: what must he do to inherit the life that is without boundaries?

From our perspective on this side of the cross, and this side of the Protestant Reformation, we might say that the question—while understandable—is ultimately the wrong one. Life in God’s kingdom is not something we can gain by our own efforts. I unfortunately do not have time this week to do the proper word study, but I find it odd that the man asks about an inheritance. Mark doesn’t ascribe any age to the man, but elsewhere he is described as young. For a young man to be rich, it is quite likely that he inherited at least part of his wealth from his parents (specifically father). Does his experience of inherited wealth inform how he frames his question?

You Know the Commandments

Jesus doesn’t correct the man with a theology of grace alone. He quizzes the man about the Torah, specifically the Ten Commandments. Is Jesus trying to catch him out in his sin, use the law to point out how impossibly he falls short of righteousness? No, he isn’t.

What does he do? Jesus loves him. Jesus is the loving sort, after all. But the passage is written such that this particular love is triggered by the man’s responses. He is someone who has sought to follow the Torah his whole life.

Lacking One Thing

Jesus follows up this love with a response that could be seen as an answer to the man’s initial question. This response is a series of commands.

  • Go, sell what you own
  • Give the money to the poor
  • Come, follow me

Are these instructions on how to inherit eternal life? No, I don’t think so (not the least because of my Protestant theology). But within context, it does seem that way. The man asks a question, and after he left, Jesus warns his disciples how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. It sure seems like Jesus pointed the way and the man rejected it. But what if Jesus was doing something different? What if he was giving the man a sort of job interview?

Come, Follow Me

Taking the commands in Jesus’ response in the wrong order, Jesus is calling the man to become a disciple, to travel with him and learn about the kingdom of God. This is close to his call of the first disciples (though the Greek is different, the NRSV translates them the same). And what did Simon, Andrew, James, and John do when they heard this call? They dropped everything to follow Jesus. Did they inherit eternal life more than Martha or any of the Marys who weren’t accompanying Jesus full-time? No. But their response to the call gave them the blessing of accompanying Jesus, becoming leaders in the early church, and eventually being killed for that. This is what Jesus is offering.

Go, Sell What You Own

The man’s response to Jesus’ Torah questions told Jesus that the man strove to follow the Torah. And he clearly had some fledgling faith in Jesus. He approached Jesus rather than the other way around. But the thing is, he couldn’t follow Jesus like the teacher wanted him to, since he had a household he was responsible for (though I’m assuming he didn’t have a wife and kids, since then Jesus would be telling him to leave his family destitute, which I just can’t see). The man’s (many) possessions kept him stuck in one place.

Give the Money to the Poor

Now, I’ve been trying to be very sympathetic toward the rich man, in part because that is the tone I’m getting from the text until Jesus’ harsh words in verse 23. But there is also the very important bit about the man’s priorities, where his heart and loyalties lie. Yes, the man might have striven to follow the Torah, but he did so from a comfortable house surrounded by all his cool stuff. And the cost of giving up his stuff was greater to him than the benefit he could see in accompanying Jesus.

And here’s an opportunity for my soapbox. Riches are immoral. To be surrounded by children of God experiencing poverty and to keep your wealth to yourself is contrary to God’s way of shalom and justice. God’s intention for the world is for everyone to have everything they need, not just to survive, but to thrive. The accumulation of resources by a few while the many lack is wrong. Jesus is calling for a little redistribution of wealth.

A Lens for Self-Reflection

This is all well and good…until you start looking at your own life through this lens. I am certainly not someone people would consider rich. But, like most Americans, I have plenty of stuff that keeps me grounded (not in the good way, in the way that airplanes are grounded and unable to fly), to keep me stuck.

I do not believe that Jesus is calling everyone to renounce all possessions and become itinerant disciples. That is the call of a few, not the many (which is good, because the production of necessary goods requires people to work at non-religious jobs). But we can all reflect on our priorities.

In all of God’s blessings,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the “Call-up Story” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) curriculum, which will work with many age groups. This intergenerational classroom resource is also available as individual lessons.

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