Mark 10: a theological Interpretation

We’ve been practicing entering and meditating on a text over the last few weeks, and despite moving on, I have been wrestling (again) with Mark 10 and the story of the Rich Young Ruler, trying to do justice to it both exegetically and theologically.  In particular, I have appreciated Halden's consideration of the text on his blog. While in campus ministry, I was always bemused how quickly people turned to, “Well, his heart was too set on the riches,” as if ours here and now are not,  -never mind the camel/eye of needle bit.  It’s a stout piece of scripture.

The way Jesus navigates the conversation is particularly fascinating.  He only offers the man 5 of 10 commandments, and the easy ones at that.  If we put aside for a moment the trajectory of the Sermon on the Mount, I, along with pew upon pew of church people can say with sincerity, that we have followed the second tablet of Moses accidentally if not devoutly.  I have never murdered, defrauded or sought to dishonor my parents, and though they run deep they aren’t impressively difficult to follow.  In fact, they represent some pretty basic standards for societies, and I wonder if Jesus plays a game of cat-and-mouse here to probe where the man's head is at.  Quoting the 10 Commandments is too obvious and seems to ask, “How much do you want to know the answer?”

“Jesus, how can I have eternal life?”
“Oh, you know, read your Bible, pray.”
“…No really Jesus, how?”

In Mark 10, Jesus’ response seems all out of proportion to the question.  He goes from easy to bone crushingly scary in one sentence.  Elsewhere, he agrees with the scribe who sees one must love God and neighbor.  He has compassion on crowds without a shepherd and he invites the disciples to follow him, but this man of substance has an awfully high wall to hurdle.  Living in the wealth of the west, it is alarming to read rich people entering the Kingdom of God is an impossibility.  Seriously.  This one has always scared me.

We see Jesus powerfully illustrate for this fine young man that salvation is not something under his control, or ours.  Here he stands, a compelling portrait of religious success; successful, obedient, and seeking wisdom from the Good Teacher.   He is teachable and reverent, dispensing with the “good teacher” bit when questioned, the son every Christian parent hopes to raise.  And yet despite his circumstance and station he does not know where eternal life lies.  Here, Jesus says, “Not with you.”

This is not to brush away any teaching about wealth, but to highlight how much power and proficiency keep us from our neediness, of which wealth and religious status are chief examples.  It shouldn’t surprise us to remember Jesus welcomes the children immediately before this, explaining the Kingdom of God is something to be received.  Both wealth and religion hid our neediness, our finitude, and our impotence.  Jesus asks the man something powerfully difficult, to get reacquainted with his humanity and incompleteness.  Renouncing the world and loving the powerless will do that to you.

This is the kind of passage that corrodes our religious sensibilities and ends up explained away by other things in church.  Nobody really wants to preach that their riches keep them from God or that they don’t need their religious identity.  It disrupts our plans and theologies because it reminds us that our salvation is God’s decision, not ours.  We cannot establish it from our own power or achieve it or control it.  We just, “receive it like a child,” a verse so quaint, even banal as often as it’s repeated, that we do not perceive the utter sovereignty and dominion of God accreted therein.  No wonder religious communities become so fixed on determining inclusion and exclusion.  Like the rich man’s wealth, our religious currencies both mask our need for God’s salvation and bar the way.   Our achievements and strengths and competencies are barriers to the Kingdom; our wealth a snuffing out of the kind of spirit that the Gospel is good news for.  Becoming a child looks severe in the face of all the scaffolding we erect to grow up into angels.

T.F. Torrance writes,
"We sinful human beings are trapped by our sin within the circle of our hearts which are turned in upon themselves, so that we cannot even repent of our faith or repent of our repentance, but are cast wholly and unreservedly upon the unconditional forgiveness of Christ Jesus.  Indeed it is because the judgment inherent in his forgiveness falls upon the innermost self in all our acts of faith and repentance that we are thrown upon Chris alone and saved by grace alone." -Preaching Christ Today, p.36

Who can be saved?
"For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."


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