Hi, friends. If you were a fat cat, how would you spend your money? I like to believe I’d give most of it away.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He encounters a rich, young ruler who wants to know how to inherit eternal life. When I recently read the story again in Mark, I felt like I truly understood the exchange for the first time. [This is the condensed version of a sermon I gave for my vacationing pastor last Sunday.]
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “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.”
The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:17-27, NIV)
Rules vs. “Heart-Based” Instructions
Jesus recites some of the ten commandments as the initial basis for good behavior, then He really looks into the man’s heart and sees what he must do to become a true disciple.
The exchange between Jesus and the man reflects why Jesus disliked the religious elites of the time. They adhered to the straight-forward, strict rules of the old covenant–guidelines for sacrifices, the tabernacle, ceremonial cleanliness, etc.–but neglected the “heart-based” instructions, such as “don’t oppress strangers in your land” and “leave the fallen grapes in your vineyard for the poor” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Several though not all come from Leviticus 19.]
Jesus is grace; God is love. The young ruler needed to look beyond “rules” and examine his heart, and we should do the same. Sure, he wasn’t murdering anyone or stealing or committing adultery…but if this man had riches while his neighbors starved, was he loving his neighbor as himself?
The phrase “Change your hearts and lives!” is repeated constantly in the Gospels. Notice that the phrase does not read “Follow the rules” or even just “Change your lives.”
“Change my heart O God/ Make it ever true/ Change my heart O God/ May I be like You”
The Difference in Mark’s Version
This story appears in Mark, Luke, and Matthew. I used to write Mark off as a condensed version of the Gospel, but I felt intrigued when I read a commentary recently that dubbed Mark “a human story of Jesus” because Jesus experiences passion, grief, fear, etc. in Mark. Perhaps that is why this particular phrase only appears in Mark’s version…“Jesus looked at him AND LOVED HIM.”
He saw straight through to the man’s heart, which was still enslaved to the world, despite his following the rules. But Jesus was not annoyed or disgusted…no, He loved him.
Jesus sees our flawed hearts, and HE LOVE US!
In the end, when the disciples ask who can be saved and Jesus answers that all things are possible with God, I think He means that everyone has their downfalls in discipleship, whether we are holding something back (money, time, effort, talent, etc. for the kingdom of God) or something is holding us back (a grudge we won’t let go, laziness in devotional life, guilt for a sin, etc.). Praise God for salvation through grace; we can’t “earn” salvation, but all things are possible through God.
Thanks for reading! What do you take away from this story? Let me know in the comments.
Bonus Fun Facts
“A camel going through the eye of a needle” is a strange analogy. It’s certainly possible that Jesus used an extreme comparison to make a point. Here are two theories about the analogy, which has its own Wikipedia page:
- The Greek word for “knot” is similar to the Greek word for “camel,” so the verse should have read, “It is easier for a knot to fit through the eye of a needle…”
- (Allegedly) there was a gate in Jerusalem called “Eye of the Needle.” Travellers used it at night. Camels had to shed all their baggage to fit through the narrow gate.