Lifestyles of the Rich, Young, and Sad (Mark 10)

He did everything right.

He was religious. He was prosperous. He was educated. He was respected.

He was one of Israel’s most eligible bachelors.

But something was missing. Something deep:

Peace with God at the soul level.

It all publicly culminated as he collapsed like a heap before the dirty feet of the one with answers, a good teacher. Like a pauper begging for a lonely morsel he’d go anywhere, give everything, do anything to quench this longing. What a humble posture for a man of his stature. Or so it seems:

Teacher what must I do to have eternal life?!

Pray a prayer? Follow a formula? Give some change to the good teacher’s cause? The answer should be simple enough, thought the young man.

The good teacher answers his question with a question. An enigmatic reply only a Jewish Rabbi could muster. And then He points to the Mosaic Law,

“Just do it.”

This dude must not know me very well, thought the young chap. I’ve kept the law obsessively since pre-K. I’ve tithed out of my spice rack, never touched an unclean woman, and I don’t even beat my servants on the Sabbath!

“Good sir, I kept this Law ever since I was a little boy.”

The most curious look washed across the good teacher’s face. Sadness and compassion at once converged in His deep dark brown eyes. Tears welled up but didn’t roll down as He responded to the boy:

“Then sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow Me for the rest of your life.”

Now

The golden calf is laid bare.

The sword is plunged into the heart of the matter.

It had been the question that had haunted the boy until now, but for the rest of his life the answer will haunt him even more. What mindless audacity from a sweaty carpenter with no pedigree, no land, and no following of consequence?

This couldn’t be.

He stood up slowly, downcast, and turned back to the fields of gold he came from. Rich. Young. Respected. Religious.

Full of sorrow.

Full of pride.

The good teacher watched the young ruler amble away without another word.

Sometimes the questions are complex and the answers are simple.

Sometimes we walk away sorrowful from the only One who can give real lasting joy.

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

32 thoughts on “Lifestyles of the Rich, Young, and Sad (Mark 10)”

  1. A good reminder. Times are hard for so many people right now. Struggling to survive, living paycheck to paycheck. In some places people worry about waking up in the morning; they worry about their children’s safety. We all want security and financial ease and comfort and safety and security. It’s easy to trust in the outward things too much and forget that even with all of the outer comforts, our lives are lacking hope if we don’t have Jesus Christ. Thank you again for reminding me about the true source of my Hope.

  2. There’s a problem between your first and second line – because there’s nothing right with being “religious.” OK – maybe exercising religiously or sticking to your diet religiously might have some benefits, but worshiping God religiously is missing the point completely. God wants your heart – not your activity log.

  3. I think you have omitted key parts of the story in Mark 10 which distorts its meaning.
    Here is the passage (unabridged):

    So how is a human being to attain eternal life, that is, how are we to be saved? Jesus was asked this very question in Mark chapter 10. Here is the full story:

    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?”

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
    “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Note that Jesus does not tell the man that he must put his faith in Jesus, or that salvation is solely dependent on Jesus dying to atone for his sins. No. As a humble Jew Jesus recognizes that the attribute of goodness is found perfectly in God alone, not in himself; that to sincerely obey the commands of the Torah is the main road to salvation, but in this individual’s case he lacked just one thing – he needed to give away his wealth to the poor and this would result in his gaining treasure in heaven. Note carefully the sequence.

    That this passage caused embarrassment to later gospel writers (who used Mark’s gospel when compiling their own gospels) is evident from the changes they made to Jesus’ words by removing his denial that he is good

    Here is Matthew’s altered version in 19:17 (compare this with Marks original)

    And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ (Instead of Mark’s original ‘why do you call me good?’)

    By way of contrast let us turn to Paul’s answer to the same question about salvation in Romans 10:9:

    If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    The differences are startling. As we have seen, Jesus’ answer to the question about salvation focuses on obedience to the Torah and giving to the poor. As a Prophet to the Jewish people, Jesus taught that faithfulness to God is to be expressed in adherence to the Creator’s commands and precepts in the Torah. Paul’s religion focused on Jesus and he claimed that the Torah had been abolished. Jesus in Matthew chapter 5 taught precisely the opposite.

    1. I thought it was pretty clear this wasn’t a strict apologetic interpretation of the passage. More of a creative commentary.

      I understand why you interpret that passage as you do. I don’t accept that interpretation given the vast amount of evidence from the mouth of Jesus Himself concerning His divine Sonship. He is a Jewish Rabbi, absolutely, but He is not just a Jewish Rabbi. For example He also calls Himself:

      I AM John 8:58

      Son of Man Mark 10:33

      Bread of God John 6:33

      The Resurrection John 11:25

      The way the truth the life John 14:9

      etc.

      The confession Paul postulates in Romans 10:9 is complementary of the confession Jesus blesses from Peter in Matthew 16. The similarities are startling. I believe Paul believed the Torah was fulfilled in Christ just as Jesus claimed He would do in Matthew chapter 5.

      1. Like 99% of NT scholars I take any ‘quotes’ of Jesus in John in the light of the kind of literature John is.

        Here are some quotations from top conservative Christian scholars on the synoptics and John:

        ‘Nevertheless the nature of the Gospel tradition means that we cannot simply take everything recorded in all the Gospels as unquestionably genuine reports about what Jesus said or did in a pre-Easter situation.’

        Christopher M. Tuckett (Professor of New Testament Studies, Oxford University), Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers, 2001, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 203.
        *
        ‘While the synoptics preserve the sayings of Jesus more exactly in their original language and form, the fourth evangelist employs more freely his own modes of thought and language in reporting and interpreting the discourses of Jesus.’

        (Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, p. 96.)

        *
        A prominent conservative evangelical scholar, John Drane (a student of F. F. Bruce), likewise concludes:

        . . . they [New Testament gospels] are certainly carefully crafted narratives aiming to tell the story of Jesus’ life and teaching. As such, they are not to be judged by the standards of scientific enquiry, but according to the practises of story telling, in which the ‘truth’ of a narrative is to be judged as a whole on its own terms, rather than in relation to notions of truth and falsehood drawn from some other sphere of human endeavour.

        The early Christian communities clearly had no problem in accepting that within the gospel traditions there would be a subtle combination of factual and fictional elements. Had they not done so, they would certainly not have tolerated the existence of four gospels which, for all their similarities, are sufficiently different from one another as to defy all attempts at producing one harmonized, factual version of the life and teachings of Jesus from them. They knew that both artists and historians operate under similar constraints as they seek to balance fact with fictional elaboration, and that the telling of a good story . . . depends on the coherent combination of both these elements. While all four gospels contain factual fictive elements, the fourth gospel appears to have a greater preponderance of the latter.

        (John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, Lion Publishing Plc. Revised Edition. 1999 pp. 210-211)

        *
        James D. G. Dunn, one of the leading moderate New Testament scholars around and no “anti-supernatural liberal,” who writes:

        Few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus’ life and ministry in any degree comparable to the Synoptics. It is worth noting briefly the factors which have been considered of enduring significance on this point. One is the very different picture of Jesus’ ministry, both in the order and the significance of events . and the location of Jesus’ ministry.

        Another is the striking difference in Jesus’ style of speaking (much more discursive and theological, in contrast to the aphoristic and parabolic style of the Synoptics). As Strauss had already pointed out, this style is consistent, whether Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, or to the woman at the well, or to his disciples, and very similar to the style of the Baptist, as indeed of 1 John. The inference is inescapable that the style is that of the Evangelist rather than that of Jesus.130 Probably most important of all, in the Synoptics Jesus’ principal theme is the Kingdom of God and he rarely speaks of himself, whereas in John the Kingdom hardly features and the discourses are largely vehicles for expressing Jesus’ self-consciousness and self-proclamation.

        Had the striking ‘I am’ self-assertions of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any Evangelist have ignored them so completely as the Synoptics do?131 On the whole, then, the position is unchanged: John’s Gospel cannot be regarded as a source for the life and teaching of Jesus of the same order as the Synoptics. (James D. G. Dunn, Christianity In The Making Vol. 1, Jesus Remembered, 2003, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 165-166.)

        Other conservative Christian scholars who have similar types of verdicts to offer regarding the historicity of the gospel of John include: Bruce Stein, Craig A Evans and Martin Hengel, to name a few.

    2. I recently heard Mark Driscoll say that Jesus’ commentary on the title ‘good’ was actually a confirmation of his divinity…in other words, Jesus is saying, “You’re calling me good, but only God is good…so you recognize who I AM, don’t you?”

      Also I think one could argue that Jesus’ command to give away all he owned gets to the ‘heart’ of the matter: Keeping the Law was not enough, because the Law itself does not grant eternal life; only God (in the person of Jesus) can do that.

      Finally, Jesus says that the boy must give away his possessions to get ‘treasure in heaven’. I could interpret the giving away of possessions and following Jesus to be two separate actions with two separate rewards. Giving away possessions stores treasure in heaven, but to get access to that reward someday you’d have to follow Jesus (and inherit eternal life). I suspect the young man could have opted to not give away his riches and started following Jesus immediately, regardless. I think this is a good parallel to many people of the universal church today. If the young man had simply started following Jesus without first surrendering his wealth, I doubt Jesus would have turned him away…and who knows, maybe after a few meals Jesus the kid would’ve decided to give away his wealth after all.

      Perhaps a key lesson with this story is that we shouldn’t let our desires get in our way of following Jesus. It’s not that we’re all supposed to immediately be perfect, give everything away, and become the next Apostle; rather, we should be willing to risk those things we hold most sacred (wealth, in this case) in following Jesus.

      1. ‘Mark Driscoll say that Jesus’ commentary on the title ‘good’ was actually a confirmation of his divinity…in other words, Jesus is saying, “You’re calling me good, but only God is good…so you recognize who I AM, don’t you?”’

        I think this is truly terrible exegesis. It is not what Jesus said. It reads later Christian beliefs back into Mark 10, and completely distorts them.

        Here are the words again:

        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?”

        “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

        This only makes sense if jesus is not claiming to be divine.

        *
        ‘Keeping the Law was not enough, because the Law itself does not grant eternal life; only God (in the person of Jesus) can do that.’

        Actually this is false. Read Deuteronomy 30: It is perfectly possible to obey the Law and through that to have Life.

        In Mark 10 the man needed to do just ONE thing to be saved – give his money to the poor. Jesus did not have to die for him.

        1. Paul, I’m sorry we can’t seem to find a common ground to debate. I feel as though you are arguing from the point of view of “my way or the highway” and are not willing to discuss this topic honestly.

          Regarding Deuteronomy 30: I stand corrected, because you’re right; it is possible to obey the Law; Jesus did it. The only problem is that I can’t think of a whole lot of other people in biblical text that actually fulfilled what you’re describing.

          1. ‘The only problem is that I can’t think of a whole lot of other people in biblical text that actually fulfilled what you’re describing.’

            Well I can think others, Paul for example (see Philippians 3 ), and according to Catholics – Mary…

            Jesus in Mark 10 (and elsewhere) taught that Jews are saved by obeying the Law. Paul of course disagreed.

  4. A nice way to get us to think about the story. What am I holding on to that God wants me to let go? Thanks for stopping by my site and the like.

  5. I love this post! Jesus was, in my opinion, not stating that for everyone, selling everything is the way into heaven. As another blogger pointed out, He got to the “heart” – if this man’s “god” were something else, He would have dealt with that. But this man’s “god” was money and psossession, so He dealt with that. Fact is, whatever we hold out to be essential in our temporal lives,, and we are not willing to give up, would likely be the blank Jesus would fill in if we were in this story. Blessings.

  6. My pastor thinks the rich young man in this story may very well have been the infamous St. Paul before his dramatic conversion. Reading Paul’s letters, he claims to have kept the law without fault since his youth and he mentions having struggled with covetousness.

  7. Hi Bryan, love your style of writing here.

    Thanks for liking my post “Lord I bow down at your feet”. I’m quite new to blogging and a “baby” in my christian walk, and amazed at the extent and intensity of the discussion here. Look forward to deepening my knowledge of Christ!

  8. This is among one of several favorites in the Gospels…there’s so much going on and so relevant to our world and religious climate today. By the way good opening lines!

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