As Mark retells the story of Jesus in his Gospel, many different people interact with Jesus. One of the most interesting of these characters is a man "who has many possessions" (Mark 10:17-31), but who passionately seeks "eternal life". Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is somewhere in the Jordan valley, north of Jericho. Where this man lives, we do not know, but running up to Jesus and kneeling in front of him, he demands from Jesus the answer to his question – "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" Can there be a more important question that anyone could ask? Being wealthy, he probably was well known to people living in the region. His approach to Jesus must have been noteworthy.
The man addresses Jesus as "Good Teacher". Surprisingly, Jesus challenges his use of the term ‘good’. "Why do you say that I am good?" Jesus asks. Perhaps Jesus senses that this man does not understand what goodness essentially is. Even though he knows the commands of Moses and can affirm that "I have kept all these things from my youth", does he really know what goodness entails? It is interesting that Jesus, according to Mark, does not refer to the tenth commandment, the one about coveting. Is this purposeful, because Jesus knows this man’s wealth is immense? It seems this man needs to have his estimate of his personal ‘goodness’ radically challenged and revised. Unless he accepts Jesus’ definition of goodness, he will not "inherit eternal life".
God’s goodness and the standard of goodness that He demands from human beings was first expressed definitively in the Ten Commandments. Yet people interpreted God’s standards in ways that devalued them. We redefined goodness so that we could achieve it. When Jesus appears, he reminds us once more that God holds us accountable to His standard of goodness, despite the efforts of humanity to have it their way. The wealthy man possessed a twisted sense of his own goodness.
When Jesus tells the wealthy man to sell what he owns, give the proceeds to the poor and to follow him, he is absolutely shocked. In Jewish terms wealth generally signified God’s blessing. Surely if anyone was right with God, it was the wealthy! If the only way he can have heavenly treasure is to get rid of his earthly treasure, this poses a significant problem for him. His dilemma is clear:
- Should he hold on to his wealth, continue to follow traditional Jewish beliefs, but have no certainty that he possesses eternal life?
- Or, should he listen to Jesus, sell his possessions, help the poor, become Jesus’ disciple and, based on Jesus’ promise, gain eternal life?
We do not know what the man decided. Plainly he was saddened (perilupos) at Jesus’ demands and in some sense is angry. Mark’s word (stugnazo) is rarely found and seems to suggest a gloomy, darkened countenance that arises from inner anger or deep upset at unexpected circumstances.
In one of the Greek translations of Daniel 2:12 Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to his astrologers’ inability to tell him his dream and its interpretation is described by these same words (stugnos…perilupos). In this frame of mind he orders their execution. The other Greek translation of Daniel 2:12 describes the king as "angry and wrathful". So the wealthy man’s reaction to Jesus’ response seems to reflect anger of some kind and this is reflected in his bodily demeanour. It is a hostile response, not just a sad response.
We might wonder what Jesus was thinking and feeling as he gave advice that he must have known would cause great consternation. Mark leaves us in no doubt. In vs. 21 Mark tells us that Jesus "looked at the man and loved (agapao) him." This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel when this verb is used. It speaks volumes to us as we today wrestle with the application in our lives of many of Jesus’ teachings. This man may have thought Jesus was being unduly harsh in his response, but in fact Jesus responds out of the deepest love. He knows what the man needs, he knows how the man can receive it, and motivated by love, he tells him. This is truthful love and tough love, but it is backed by the sacrifice of Jesus’ own life for people such as this man.
How often do we respond to God’s words like this wealthy man? We do not like His prescription, we become irritated, and we go away deeply upset. God tells us the truth because He loves us, but to us the truth seems hurtful and not what we expected. Our challenge is to discern God’s love in His truth and not let our human response, perhaps anger, ambition, disappointment, and grief, get in the way of our obedience and our opportunity to "inherit eternal life".
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today
- review the personal requests and needs that you have shared with God recently;
- consider the answers and provisions that God has given to you in respect to these needs. What has been your response to God’s answers or provision?
- were your responses to God like that of the wealthy man to Jesus? Why? What could you have done to respond in a different way?
- can you trace God’s love yet in His response and provision for you?