The Young Rich Man

The young rich man approached Jesus to ask what he should do to inherit everlasting life. In the passage, the reader is confronted with the cost of discipleship. In the version found in the Gospel of Matthew, this man is described as “young,” and in Luke, he is a “ruler,” presumably, of the local synagogue. He was someone of status in the community. His haste to ask this question points to his sincerity.

In the Gospel of Mark, this is the first instance where Jesus is described as loving someone, and it is the first recorded case of anyone asking him how to inherit everlasting life.

Wealth by rupixen.com on Unsplash
[Wealth by rupixen.com on Unsplash]

  • (Mark 10:17-22) – “And as he was going forth into a road, one running and kneeling before him was questioning him: Good Teacher! What shall I do that life everlasting I may inherit? And Jesus said to him: Why do you call ME, good? None is good, save one, God. The commandments you know; do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal; do not bear false witness, do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. And he said to him, Teacher! All these things have I kept from my youth. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him: One thing is wanting. Withdraw! Whatsoever you have, sell, and give to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come! Be following me. And he, becoming gloomy because of the word, departed sorrowing, for he was holding many possessions.

In the Greek sentence, the pronoun translated as “ME” on the lips of Jesus is emphatic - (“Me!? Why do you call me good?”). This man had kept the requirements of the Law diligently, yet despite his obedience, something was deficient in his standing before God.

Jesus directed him to the one God who alone is good. The second half of his response may be translated as “No one is good except the one God.” Life’s ultimate purpose is to love Him. In his response, Jesus demonstrated how one does this very thing, by forsaking all and following him.

He did not dispute the young man’s claim that he had kept the Law. But something deeper than keeping the regulations of the Torah was necessary for attaining everlasting life.

The commandments listed by Jesus are from the “second” half of the Decalogue that deals with relations between men such as the commandment not to steal, and each of the last five commandments is a negative prohibition - Do NOT kill. Do NOT covet. Etc. By telling him to give all his possessions to the poor, Jesus highlighted the positive way to fulfill the commandments, through acts of kindness to others.

The one essential thing needed for the young rich man to “inherit everlasting life” was to forsake all that he owned and to follow Jesus.

The rich and the poor alike are called to follow him whatever the cost, including the surrender of all material goods. The rich man had kept the Law scrupulously, but by itself, that WAS insufficient. What he lacked was total commitment to Jesus, and his failure to do what Jesus asked demonstrated his deficiency and lack of faith.

TO FOLLOW HIM


How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” Jesus did not say that the rich could not enter the Kingdom. This man had assumed that receiving “everlasting life” required great human effort and deeds of righteousness.

  • (Mark 10:23-31) – “And looking around, Jesus says to his disciples: With what difficulty shall they who have money enter the kingdom of God! And the disciples were in amazement because of the words. But Jesus, again answering, says to them: Children! How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel through the eye of a needle to pass than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And they were being exceedingly struck with astonishment, saying to him: Who, then, can be saved? Looking at them, Jesus says: With men, impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God. Peter began to say to him: Lo! We have left all and followed you! Jesus said: Verily, I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who shall not receive a hundredfold, now, in this season, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the age that is coming, everlasting life. But many shall be first last, and the last first.

Jesus employed hyperbole for effect. The image of a camel passing through the eye of a needle pictured a physical impossibility, and this served to stress the inability of human effort to achieve everlasting life. Our wealth, good deeds, and righteousness are all insufficient in the end.

Jesus did not categorically condemn wealth and possessions. In the gospel accounts, not every wealthy individual is required to sell everything. Here, the focus is on this man’s real problem - His attachment to material wealth that prevented him from doing the one thing necessary to enter the Kingdom - To follow Jesus no matter the cost.

Jesus promised that everyone who gives up everything to follow him will receive “a hundredfold” in this life. Often overlooked is the inclusion of the one “negative” item in his list – “Persecutions.” The Gospel is not a guarantee that disciples will escape hardship for the sake of the Kingdom, including economic loss and persecution.

Wild Flowers - Photo by Townsend Walton on Unsplash
[Photo by Townsend Walton on Unsplash]

Previously, Jesus made clear that to gain his life a disciple must first lose it in service to the Kingdom. “
Greatness” in his domain is measured by service to others - “If anyone wills to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and be following me. For whoever wills to save his own life shall lose it, but whoever shall lose his life for my sake and that of the gospel, shall save it.”

The final declaration of the passage, “Many who are first will be last, and last, first,” is the classic description in the gospels of the great Reversal of Fortune at the time of the final judgment. Many will be surprised when they discover who receives the greatest reward, as well as who loses the most.



RELATED POSTS:
  • To Follow the Lamb - (The Messiah of Israel submitted to the way of the Cross and summoned his disciples to follow his example in their daily lives)
  • Counting the Cost - (To be the disciple of Jesus one must take up the cross and follow in his footsteps, even if it results in rejection, impoverishment, or death - Mark 6:7-30)
  • Greatness in His Kingdom - (His disciple is called to engage in self-sacrificial service for others just as Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many – Mark 10:35-45)

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