Mark carefully places the story of "the rich young ruler" between the blessing of the children, v13-16, and the rewards of discipleship, v28-31. In the blessing of the children, we learn that the kingdom of God is received by the humble seeker as a gift of grace. In the story of the rich man we are reminded that the righteousness worthy of the kingdom is beyond any of us and this because we are all "rich" in this world's things. Then, in the disciples' response to the rich man's sad departure, we learn that the rich man's sorrow is far safer than the disciples' pride, for in the end, the kingdom is received by the broken, not the proud.
v17. Jesus is approached by a man with an important question. This man of "great wealth" is someone with genuine respect for Jesus, even addressing Jesus as "good", a description normally reserved for God. He asks Jesus a classic religious question, "what must I do to enter life", a question usually answered in the terms of Ezekiel 33:15. For Jesus, salvation is not a matter of doing, but rather receiving, and those who receive are the helpless, not the righteous.
v18. Jesus' unwillingness to accept the description "good" is not a denial of his sinlessness, nor is it a claim to deity, but rather is a reminder that "none are righteous, no not one."
v19. Jesus quotes the law as it relates to a neighbor. Do this and you will live, Deut.30:15f.
v20. The man genuinely believes he has obeyed the law since becoming an adult, although his question to Jesus implies a lack of assurance. Has he truly kept the law?
v21. In the ethic of Judaism, it was not proper to become destitute through sacrificial generosity to the poor. Yet, Jesus goes to the heart of true neighborliness by illustrating how this rich man can love his neighbor as himself. If he gives everything he has to the poor he will earn merit ("treasure in heaven"), but of course, Jesus knows that no person is capable of perfection.
v22. Clearly Jesus has made his point, for the rich man now knows he is a sinner. He joins the helpless, and it is the helpless Jesus has come to save.
v23-25. Jesus goes on to claim that it is hard for a person who possesses this world's things to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples are astonished because, in the ethic of Judaism, wealth is a sign of God's blessing and its wise use a means of merit. Jesus then redefines his claim to include everyone, such that what was hard now becomes impossible.
v26-27. If entering the kingdom (gaining "eternal life") is next to impossible, what hope does anyone have? On the basis of human merit it is impossible, but there is another way; God can save out of kindness.
v28. Peter's self-justification indicates a failure to understand all that Jesus has just said to the disciples.
v29-30. Jesus' response to Peter is somewhat tongue in cheek. The leaving of discipleship, prompted by faith in Christ, has its reward, both in eternity and now, although the responsibilities of the Christian fellowship are sometimes more a trial than a reward.
v31. Peter's self-congratulation prompts a warning to those, who like Peter, think they are secure before God. The rich man, broken before God, is in a far safer position than Peter with all his bluster.
"All things are possible with God."
We have all been reminded of this verse at some time or other. It often comes our way when we have expressed doubt about some venture proposed by a keen believer. There is nothing more dangerous in a church council meeting, than questioning the wisdom of some proposed programme, because we are sure to receive the "all things are possible" line. It implies we have little faith, little faith in God's power that is, rather than little faith in the wisdom of the hair-brain scheme. There is this long-held belief that impossible dreams are made possible by the God of the impossible.
There is no doubt that all things are possible for God, Yet, we are bound to qualify this claim:
First, God does not act against his own will, person or character; he does not act against his own being.
Second, he has never promised to act on our intentions, impossible or otherwise, rather, he acts on his own intentions. Where he has promised to act on our behalf, then we can be sure he will act as he has promised. For example, he has promised to save the repentant sinner. God has promised to overcome the impossible possibility of a sinner entering the kingdom of heaven.
So then, what do we take from our passage for study? Is it about God underwriting our impossible dreams, or is it about God underwriting his own impossible promises? We read of a rich man humiliated and helpless, and of disciples confident and self-assured. What we learn is that the God of the impossible is willing and able to eternally save the broken and unworthy. Rich people, like you and me.
1. What was Jesus' purpose in quoting the commands to the rich man?
2. If "all things" doesn't mean everything, what does it mean? cf. v27.