As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
And still it’s not over. What Jesus tells this man, I mean. He tells him to give what he has away, to give it to the poor, that he might have treasure in heaven. But then he says one more thing: follow me.
Two things strike me about this last detail. First, the heavenly riches stem from his identifying with the poor – giving away wealth that has not, in fact, led to the spiritual enlightenment or abundant life he has sought. But giving it away, giving it to those who need it so much more than he does, will. Now, disentangled from his wealth, reconnected to those around him, now and only now is he free. Free to live with integrity, free to experience abundant life, free to stop worrying about the future, free to follow Jesus.
But what does that mean? I suppose we answer it by calling what Jesus invites him to “discipleship.” But it is of a certain kind, I think. And again we get a clue to what this means from the beginning of the story, and this is the second thing that stands out in this passage.
Mark starts this scene by saying “As he was setting out on a journey….” The word Mark uses for “journey” is often also translated as “the way.” Understood this way, it’s a significant word in Mark’s account. He begins his story by quoting the Isaiah passage about “preparing the way of the Lord” (1:2, 3). Moreover, each time Jesus talks about his death, he seems to be “on the way” with his disciples. In Mark 8:27, they are “on the way” to Caesarea Philippi, when he asks his disciples who people say he is, and he teaches them at the messiah Peter confesses must suffer and die. A little later, just after Jesus has been again teaching them that he must die, the disciples miss his point altogether and argue about who is greatest while “on the way” to Capernum (9:33), prompting Jesus to talk about servant leadership. Finally, as we’ll see, they are “on the way” to Jerusalem when he makes his third and final prediction (10:32).
So now Jesus is again “on the way” when this rich man runs up. Where is he headed? To the cross. Where does Jesus invite this man to follow. To the cross. Perhaps not the literal cross that Jesus will hang upon, but instead the cross of self-denial; the cross of putting others first; the cross of trusting only in God and caring for neighbor rather than relying your own abilities and assets and seeking your own good; the cross of seeking heavenly riches rather than earthly ones.
Why? Because Jesus loves him. And the only way to find life is to abandon yourself to God’s mercy and goodness, discovering that only as you lose your life you find it, and that only as you give yourself away to others in love do you receive everything and more back again.
Prayer: Dear God, we are nervous about the way Jesus went, the path he invites us to follow. Embolden us to take another step down that road, not knowing perhaps where it leads but trusting that you are the one guiding us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.