Red Letter Year: 2/8

Mark 10:17-31

17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Have you ever heard someone talk about a “Needle’s Eye Gate” in the Jerusalem wall? That’s a myth. Both “camel” and “eye of a needle” mean just what you would expect them to mean.

26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.

29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”


The story of the rich man and Jesus is told in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Each telling has its own distinctives. The most significant thing Mark has that the others don’t is the part about Jesus loving the man. I have heard sermons impugning the man’s character, arguing that he was full of pride for claiming to have kept the Ten Commandments. But that is a misreading of the story, as Mark makes clear. Jesus does not dispute the man’s claim to have kept the law, instead he loved the man for his sincerity and earnestness. But something was in the way. Despite his sincerity, morality, and genuine desire to learn from Jesus, he is not able to put aside his wealth. In fact, he is shocked (more literal than “face fell”) that Jesus asked such a thing. How could Jesus know his one hangup?

Two things we can learn here: 1. despite our best intentions and sincere desire to follow Jesus, sometimes things get in our way, preventing us from becoming his disciple; 2. Jesus will zero right in on whatever that is and tell us to get rid of it. The Holy Spirit will help us get rid of it, but it will still be hard. (Whoever said this discipleship thing was easy? No one who has tried it.) It won’t always be wealth (though all U.S. citizens reading this need to recognize how incredibly wealthy we are by the world’s standards. It’s kind of obscene really), but it will always be required of us. If you’re like me, there will be more than one of these things and Jesus will let you give them up in stages, as you’re ready for it. But make no mistake. The choice to give it up or keep it is a real one, a deal breaker. The rich man leaves because he can’t be Jesus’ disciple without divesting himself of his wealth. When Jesus tells you to get rid of something (and I promise he will) your choice is a stark one: let it go and follow Jesus or go back home.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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