Ps. 90:1, 12-17; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Heb. 3:12-19; Mark 10:17-22.
Indignant, Jesus, looking at [the man], was moved for love for him, and said to him, “You are missing one thing: go, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come on, follow me!” But he, indignant at Jesus’ word, went away grieving, for he had great estates (vv. 21, 22).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, report Jesus with this man; for Mark, he is rich (Mk. 10:22); Matthew has him “young” (Mt. 19:20); and Luke, a “ruler” (LK. 18:18). The encounter disturbs some, thinking Jesus requires followers to divest material possessions; well perhaps he does, at least in attitude.
Two concerns are in play with the rich young ruler. It is erroneous to think of worldly things as our possessions; all things belong to God; important is how we employ his material blessings. We inquire in whom or what do we trust for well-being; God, human effort, or mammon?
Second, God does not in the first instance love all people; rather he loves persons in their circumstances (cf. Mal. 1:2; Rom. 9:13), some with wealth others in poverty.
Among Jesus’ disciples, Kingdom confusion was approaching a zenith, especially among the Apostles; internecine squabbles over “greatest” (Mk. 9:34), rejection of Jesus’ indiscriminate feedings, and an unwillingness to accept the necessity of his Passion.
Today a rich young ruler came among the disciples seeking to join their troupe. Jesus discerned a man caught-up in delusion, an orientation toward God grounded in material abundance, youth, power, and friendship with the world; ignorant of his circumstance before the Lord.
No doubt the disciples thought this man perfect complement for their company, an emblem of their own hopes and dreams about Jesus’ kingdom: vast estates, crops, vineyards, stone mansions, coin of the realm, prestigious office, and youth to enjoy the largess; if honest, all that lurks in our hearts.
The man saluted Jesus, “Good Teacher” (Mk. 10:17) immediately cautioning him against thoughtless speech, “No one is good except God alone” (v. 18).
So far, those in Jesus’ train to Jerusalem have been acting much as ancient Israel en route to the Promised Land. The Psalmist warns, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as at the Bitter Place …” (Ps. 95:8; Heb. 3:7, 9).
Opposed to his disciples’ assessment, Jesus discerned the rich man’s heart, fast becoming sclerotic toward God; three strikes: #1) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:25); #2) the man was distracted by estates and income, ill-affording time in God’s word; and strike #3) the man was age-inappropriate and inexperienced for Kingdom rule.
Still, for love of the man, Jesus prescribed his peculiar cure: “go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me!” (Mk. 10:21b); the man’s joy at arriving, turned to bitter departure.
Our Epistle warns: “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another … that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12, 13).
If our witness is that God alone is good, alone owner of all he created, then faith follows. Except for a remnant, ancient Israel, time and again grumbled against God’s word, plan, and provision through Moses, opposing his lead in the desert for their own judgments.
So too, when Christians depart attending God’s word in the congregation, a subtle falling away change occurs; hearing other voices: their own heart, contrary cultural rationales, and temptations beckoning to sin.
When hearts are hardened to his Voice; the Psalmist calls us to return, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …” to God’s way; the Loaves, the Passion and cross, and Christ’s love through us for deploy of his abundance.
The rich young ruler inquired what he must do to inherit eternal life; Jesus’ prescription of divesting wealth implicitly directed to an honest evaluation of his true spiritual condition. Jesus interpreted God’s prohibition against covetousness as, “do not defraud” (Mk. 10:19) suggesting the man’s dealings in the town-gate, not altogether just.
Protestations aside, it appears the man’s great wealth was maintained in the time-honored way of powerful men judging in the gate at the expense of justice toward his workers, the poor and needy.
Amos, 800 years earlier rendered the rich young ruler’s portrait; “They hate the… one speaking honestly … trample on the poor and take from them a tax of grain, [live] in houses of hewn stones … [plant] choice vineyards … are enemies of a righteous man, [take] a bribe, and needy people … [are] thrust away in the gate” (Amos 5:10-12); “turn[ing] justice into wormwood, and righteousness thrown to the ground” (v. 7).
For love of the man Jesus extended a fourth pitch; calling for his return to the Way of “eternal life”; sacrificial union with Jesus to the cross of heaven’s Gate; wherein by Jesus’ blood and water, God transacts his goodness with men, grace or judgment; though some distain “such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3).
After the rich man’s departure; Jesus would similarly engage Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, promising to disgorge fraudulently-gotten wealth; half to the poor, and fourfold to the defrauded; following Jesus to his Passion (Lk. 19:8).
Mammon is an inanimate idol; neither good nor bad, until finding a home in the heart, out of which it must be exorcised by God’s word for return to Jesus, heaven’s Rich Young Ruler at heaven’s Gate; justice for hardened-hearts, and Righteousness for a beloved remnant. Mercy belongs to those hearing his Voice today. Amen.