Scripture: Mark 10:17-31
What must I do? What must I do? Have you ever caught yourself asking that question? If you are human, which I am pretty sure each of us is we have asked that question a few times. We ask it after or during an argument. We ask it when we are trying to figure out life in general. What must I do?
It does not matter who you are, what your salary is, where you were born, or where you live each one of us has an idea in our heads of cause and effect. If I do it then a specific result will happen. In most cases it is the truth. If you steal at Wal-Mart you run the risk of getting arrested. If you fall in love a relationship will follow. Cause and effect, what must I do to obtain what I want?
The young man in this story not that much different from most of us. He is a good man, rising up in his community. By every indication he is just the type of person we would want to teach our children or to be a chairman of a committee. This man by every indication pursued God with a religious fervor that would turn the eyes of everyone around.
Jesus was leaving the area, taking the gospel to yet another community and this man has thought that he might have missed his chance. He came running to Jesus. When he arrived he fell to the ground in front of Jesus and asked, “What must I do?” This activity speaks volumes. We have all seen passionate people. There are people that will take up arms in support of a cause. We have seen this over the past 10 years. We see people passionate about a cause standing along the streets with signs protesting for multiple causes. Passion is good but even with all that passion we are left asking, “What must I do?” There are always causes to become passionate about, but passion can only take us so far. Passion leaves us running, constantly running, and seeking what to do next.
What must I do good teacher? Jesus looks at this young man full of passion; he knows the desire that this man has to do good works. He loves the man’s passion, but He is also aware that passions can be misplaced. His first response is one that is odd if you ask me. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” It is odd theologically more than anything, which is why it catches my eyes. Imagine the scene for a moment, there is a young man looking up at Jesus in a state of supplication and worship. He is kneeling before Jesus, longingly asking Him to give him direction and purpose. His cause is to be the essence of goodness; he wants to be seen as being a good, respectable member of the community. But Jesus asks why are you coming to me seeking goodness, only God is good. Then Jesus rattles off a list of good things to do: don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or defraud, and honor your parents.
This is a list of good things to do. I can imagine this man shaking his head up and down in agreement, making mental notes about how good he is. The smile on his face is growing because he knows that even Jesus thinks of him as being a good man, a moral and upright man. Jesus gazes down at this man with great love; he knows the passion that has driven this man. It is a passion that drives most people, to live a good life so that they can benefit. Jesus looks at him in love but also with sadness because through all his passion this man has missed the point. “One thing you lack,” says Jesus, “go sell all you own and give the money to the poor…then come follow me.”
He is given the opportunity of a lifetime! Right here before our eyes we may actually be witnessing the calling of the thirteenth apostle. What an incredible story to see flashing across the bottom of our TV screens as we watch the news. “Young millionaire sells all he owns, giving it all to the poor and follows Jesus.” Jesus knew this man; his passion was focused on himself. It was not that he was opposed in helping the poor, I’m sure he was very diligent in providing funds for benevolent purposes, but it was to gain honor for himself. Jesus is not asking him to give money to the Salvation Army at Christmas, which is a great thing to do. What Jesus is saying is take your life in the community and hit the delete button, take everything get rid of it now, and walk away not turning back.
The man’s smile instantly leaves his face. Scripture says that he is grieved because he had many possessions, but it goes deeper than that. Jesus ultimately rejected everything this man lived for, he was saying that that passion you have to be good, to do good, to make your own way to God, is pointless. He says to this man, your ways are not mine. What you are living for has absolutely no place in the kingdom of God. You call me good, but you do not even know what good is.
Harsh. You may be thinking that I am putting words in the mouth of our loving savior, but at times truth does come with a cost. It is not that Jesus is rejecting the man, what he is trying to reveal to this man is that God does not care about our actions unless our faith is in the right place. In the same breath he does not honor our faith if our actions are not reflecting the same intent. This man is focused on the cult of personality, he wants to be associated with people that will bring more honor to himself. This man is taking part in an activity that is very common in our culture. It is often stated that it is not what you know but who you know. Networking, is a part of our culture, it is how we in today’s world get ahead, get promoted, and stay employed. Many of the most successful people in areas of wealth, have achieved their status through a good idea and a lot of help from others. Networking in itself is not a bad thing, as long as it is honest. Pride is what drives this young man, he is seeking honor for himself and he realizes that his selfish ambition, is in opposition to the ways of Christ.
Before you get too comfortable Jesus continues to say, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” This is a statement of extremes. I have heard commentators say that Jesus was talking about a small gate where camels would have to get down on their knees to crawl through before entering the city. The eye of the needle would be a defense mechanism to keep out the undesirables, but all in those willing to struggle through. That is a great picture and I agree it probably would not be easy for a camel to do this, but that does not fit with the context of the passage. The initial question was “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” A crawling camel can do something to get inside, yet the man went away in grief, turned away from the kingdom. This is along the lines of a beam sticking out of your eye. It cannot happen literally, it is stating something beyond the realm of possibility. Jesus is saying that a rich person is like a camel trying to get through the tiny eye of a needle.
Jesus’ disciples are beginning to question their own eternal security at this point. I hope that we are all questioning our eternal security. We each have many possessions. Some of us more than others, but in the larger view we are all wealthy. In our nation people considered to be impoverished live better than most of the world. I say this not to guilt us, or to minimize the plight of our nations poor. They really are poor, they really do live with the constant threat of losing everything they have in an instant, and people in America really do go to bed hungry. I realize that we cannot simply say that we are all rich either, because most things require the same amount of work to obtain. To attend a movie in the United States and in Ukraine working in similar jobs, would both require one hour of work per person, just for entry.
Jesus is speaking not about how much money we have but what we treasure, what we find important. The wealthy often idolize and treasure their wealth and are proud of their ability to create wealth. This is easy to do because if you can afford what you want, you can depend on yourself more easily than trusting in God. But there are other types of idolizations that are just as dangerous spiritually. Many nations have economic safety nets, which are great and I am glad that we have them, but a safety net is not a place to stay. It is there to prevent total loss and to encourage us to get back on our feet, but we can place too much trust in our nation as well.
Both situations put someone or some organization above God. It is not to say that the activities are not good, or even done with goodness at heart. But where is God? Where is our place and where is faith? To God wealth or poverty does not matter, He wants us to devote all of our mind, all of our heart, and all of our strength t