Jesus and the Rich Man Part 2

“At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (Mk 10:22) This story is a foil to the discipleship calls found earlier in the Gospel. In Mark 1, Peter, Andrew, James, and John are called by Jesus, and they drop everything to follow Him. When Jesus calls Levi to discipleship, he also drops everything to follow Him. Here we have a similar call to discipleship, but this time we have someone who does not respond positively to the call. He goes away tragically sad because of his many possessions.

The other disciples mentioned above did not seem to come from great wealth (though Levi was a tax collector). This is not to say that they were destitute. Archaeological evidence of fisherman houses at Capernum shows that they were quite sizable. The implication seems to be that the danger of great wealth is that it becomes very difficult to let go of it for the sake of Jesus.

The rich man encounters Jesus as He is setting out on a journey. We see later in the chapter that they are on their way to Jerusalem and stop in Jericho. In Jericho, there would have been a great divide among the rich and the poor. It would make sense for Jesus to address this disparity with his disciples before entering into an area of such strong economic disparity. It has also been theorized that Mark makes use of this moment as a reminder to his own community. The audience to whom Mark is writing may have had similar issues regarding wealth disparity. There may have been some in the community with abundance while others were in poverty. This dialogue would serve to remind Mark’s audience about the need of those with more to come to the aid of those with less.

After the rich man leaves, Jesus begins a dialogue with His disciples about wealth. “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:23). The reaction of his disciples is that they were “amazed.” (Mk 10:24). They are then “astonished” (Mark 10:26) when Jesus uses a now-famous analogy to describe this difficulty: “It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10: 25)

To return to the idea that the disciples were “astonished” and “amazed,” we should take note of how wealth was traditionally viewed by the 1st Century Jewish community. Those who had money were generally viewed as blessed by God. The material success was understood generally as a reward for faithfulness. Therefore, it would have been exceedingly shocking to the Jewish listener to hear Jesus say these words. In their minds, the wealthy were those who were closer to God. But here, Jesus describes wealth as an impediment to salvation.

When the disciples are so confused that they say, “Then who can be saved?” (Mk 10:26), Jesus once again returns the theme of God’s supremacy at the beginning of the dialogue. When they first spoke, Jesus pointed the rich man back to the idea that God alone is good. Now Christ responds to his disciples by saying, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” (Mk 10:27). Not only is it God alone who is good, but is also God alone who can save. This points to the total supremacy of God in all things.

Copyright 2024, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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