Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Missing the Point" (Mark 10:17-22)


This story has such a sad outcome. The rich man went away grieving, and was never heard about again. You could say that this rich man went away … very poor. There were so many great possibilities within this encounter, however, in the end, they were lost. The Holy Spirit had been preparing this man for an encounter with Jesus, and even brought the two together; yet this unnamed rich man did NOT find freedom. Sad indeed!

The Holy Spirit is NOT short of activity. The Holy Spirit is everywhere … bringing opportunities of faith, renewal and ministry – in our home, in every cafĂ© we visit, in the community group, at the sporting ground, in the music venue, within the church. We just need to dispense with whatever is holding us back, and leave behind whatever it is we prize more highly than Jesus, and walk into freedom.

In the incident we have read, money or wealth was the problem. And we will dig into what was going on in this man’s life, and reflect on the way in which Jesus dealt with him … and why. However, in reflecting on this scripture, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit as to what our particular problem area might be (possibly very different to the man in the story), and how we, particularly, are being invited to respond to deepening our relationship with God.

A Sense of Need

We see that this rich man had a keen sense of his own need, in the way he runs up to Jesus and kneels before him. This also shows … that whatever he had heard about Jesus was enough to think that Jesus could give him some answers. Despite his wealth, he was discontented with his life, and perhaps recognised a spiritual void. This man wanted to gain “eternal life” (v 17). And this was a reasonable question to ask … maybe … depending on his mindset. Was this man asking with complete sincerity, or rather, just seeking an ‘easy ticket’ to salvation? Was he just looking for a sort of theoretical cut-and-dried answer, or was he prepared to expose his inner being?

When he asked what he needed to “do” (v 17), we might say that it was really a case of just accepting Jesus; however, as we shall see, sometimes there are things that are stubbornly standing in the way, that you do have to “do” something about. Looking at the biblical context, the incident before this … is where Jesus welcomes the little children to come to him. On that occasion he says (10:15), “Truly I tell you, whoever does NOT receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”. Aha! This speaks of empty-handedness, being uncluttered, acknowledging dependence, and desiring to learn … all epitomised by little children. We need to approach God with the sort of humility and openness that allows for transformation in our life. We need to consider daily … what God might want to teach us; and what God may want us to do in response!!

When the rich man refers to Jesus as “Good teacher” (v 17), we see that Jesus queries the use of the word “good”. What do you mean by calling me “good”? What does this man think is “good”? What do we think is “good”? 'That's good', we say, but why is it "good"? Something that suits us, something we like, or something much broader than this?! For instance, do we describe a federal budget as “good” … because it works well for us personally, or … because it serves the greatest needs within the community as a whole? Being “good” is surely about much more than our own preferences! There is a sense here, that this rich man may be looking for a convenient rather than challenging answer!

Jesus Responds

Thus, Jesus quickly refers the man to the ultimate source of all goodness … God … the actual definition of goodness. This was so that Jesus could then refer the man to well-known commandments that come directly out of the heart of God’s goodness. Aha! There is a test of sincerity coming!! We should notice that the particular commandments Jesus cites are the more ethical and social ones (out of the big ‘ten’) … the ones that deal with human relationships. Of course this is where the rubber of loving God hits the road! {Jesus doesn’t quote the ones dealing with idolatry, but probably doesn’t need to – this man knows them all.}

To make the coming ethical test even stronger, on top of the command not to steal, Jesus includes another instruction regarding not defrauding anyone. How does this man here think about his wealth? {Now I’m NOT looking to judge wealthy people here, just let the text speak for itself. This man had a problem that needed to be dealt with.} This rich man thought that he had kept these commandments; but, if he had really done so … why did he still feel so spiritually lacking. Has he really kept these, or just deluded himself?

Maybe, he had actually missed the point! Perhaps he had only applied an immature notion … that if he hadn’t taken anything from another, if he hadn’t stolen anything literally, he was okay!? At this moment, Jesus didn’t judge him, or berate him, but we read that Jesus looked at him and “loved him”. Why did Jesus “love him”?? Because he is a beautiful creation of God; because he was a seeker with an expressed need; because he had potential for good; because Jesus knew there was a significant challenge ahead of him {that he may not be able to respond to}!!

There is a sense of tender compassion here; but still … NOT without a test of this man’s genuineness. This man was on the precipice of deciding either for or against God. Would he be able to do what was in his own best interests? Would he be able to remove the barrier that stood before him? What Jesus was going to present to this man, was for his own good, and was out of God’s good heart – if he didn’t deal well with this, then he was going to miss out on the blessing that he so much desired. The Holy Spirit is available to take us deeper into God, but we have to be open for it.

The Challenge

To the rich man’s statement, “Teacher, I have kept all these [commandments] since my youth”, we get Jesus’ reply (in verse 21): “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor”. If this man could do this, he would have “treasure in heaven” {as he would have served the poor in a mighty way}, and also freedom to “follow” Jesus. Jesus was reaching down deep into this man’s values and motivations, and hoping to draw him into a proper understanding of the breadth of God’s “goodness”.

The world is full of economic inequity. Wealth is built at the expense of the poor. Hoarding wealth (without generosity) … is in effect … stealing. You can’t have more resources, without someone else having less. We have seen CEO salaries grow, while other people in the same company lose their jobs. {Apparently one train of political thought is to keep the poor working until they’re 70, to avoid having the rich pay a bit more tax.} In effect, to gain more and more wealth, and then spend all your time and effort keeping it, is to “steal” what really belongs to others.

Again in the biblical context, we hear Jesus saying to his disciples in the next verse (10:23), “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God”! How hard … the disciples wonder? “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”, Jesus says (10:25). That this is the problem being faced by this man, is seen in the fact that Jesus didn’t just ask him to be more generous, but rather be prepared to give it all away. This man needed a total reorientation. He thought that he had obeyed the commandments, and may have done so at a legal level, but at the depth of his spirit … he had NOT! His wealth had become a mountain blocking the way to “eternal life”!!

Opportunity Lost

That this rich man had missed the point of the ancient commandments (also the prophets who applied them), is seen through … the report that … he was “shocked” … at what Jesus had asked of him (v 22). And this request was just too much! Salvation had come so close, yet he couldn’t take hold of it. ‘Couldn’t’ … because money had become such a strong addiction (that his possessions actually owned him); or … ‘wouldn’t’ take hold of it … because he just loved his things so much, and they were giving him a sense of security. Either way, he walked away! But, at the same time, he had this acute sense of loss … he was “grieving” (v 22). He knew this was a lost opportunity, yet he still couldn’t bring himself to fully embrace where the Spirit of God was leading him. He remained in his discontent and spiritual unfulfillment.


Let us open ourselves to wherever the Holy Spirit is leading us. We might need to leave something behind that is just so consistently getting in the way and disrupting our growth. If we are getting prompted about something, it would be much better NOT to ignore this, but dig a little deep to identify what is going on – and getting some trusted help as necessary. The need to let something, or some hurt, go, and forgive another. The need to forgive ourself. The need to say goodbye to a particular negative memory. The need to be liked, or have to be the centre of attention. The need to keep striving for that which we can have for free. The need to stop doing something that turns out to be destructive. The need to trust in God more ... to know that he has heard our prayers! What is it that makes us sad? What can we do about it? We might need to open up some space for the Holy Spirit to give us something new – something better – “treasures in heaven” rather than “treasures of earth”.

We often think that it is evil, and darkness, and sinful behaviour … that separates us from God … and of course these do. However, in this case of the ‘rich man’, It was not a direct “sin” that was his problem, but rather his attitude to life, and by neglect, his attitude to broader humanity. As believers and disciples, following Jesus means growing more into his image. It is the Holy Spirit that aids this process, by convicting us of what needs to change, and what will free us to be the sort of people to make a difference for ‘good’ in the world … and invest in those “treasures in heaven”. Let us NOT go away ‘sad’.

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