Mark 10:17-30 (ESV)
The Rich Young Man
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
The rich young man in today’s Gospel reading would probably be surprised to discover that his philosophy of life continues to be highly popular today, two thousand years later. He strived to live an upright life. He followed the commandments. He inflicted no harm on others. And yet Jesus rebuked him because he was so attached to his wealth. Despite all his impressive qualities, this man trusted in his possessions more than he trusted in God.
Why did Jesus tell this young man to give away all that he had? Such radical poverty wasn’t part of his regular preaching. He never told Jairus, a well-off synagogue official, to give up his wealth. And he even rebuked his disciples when they suggested that one woman’s gift of expensive perfume should have been sold to help the poor. Jesus’ problem with the young man wasn’t his wealth in itself. It was the way his wealth controlled him.
We all participate in some form of idolatry. It’s part of our fallen nature. We make idols out of money, celebrities, sex, recreation, and work. Jesus’ message to the rich young man is really a message to all of us. If we want to follow Jesus, we must call him Lord and do the things he commands. We must deny ourselves and take up the cross.
In the end, we are left to wonder whether Jesus really wanted the man to give it all away or if he was just testing him, as God tested Abraham. But we are not left to wonder about Jesus’ goal. He wanted to sanctify this fellow, and for that to happen, the idol of wealth had to go.
Jesus wants to sanctify us as well. When we confess our idols and allow God to break their power over us, we find ourselves closer to Jesus. We hear him assure us that the kingdom of God is ours. And best of all, we see him looking on us with love that purifies, inspires, and empowers us.
The question is: Are we willing to relinquish our idols that we may live a holy and blameless life that allows us to enter into the kingdom of God?