I have been studying Mark’s gospel, in my morning devotions. I have found some really enriching treasures as I make my way through the book. I’ll admit right now, that, in the past, I have consciously avoided reading Mark, figuring that Mathew and Luke have all that and more. If you are shaking your head in disgrace at me, I deserve it. I know it is wrong headed and misguided, and I’m just trying to be honest about my former thoughts. Let me take a moment to right this wrong!
I want to proclaim right now that Mark’s gospel is full of mirth, insight, and, for me, unexpected beauty. My plea is that you will make Mark, often cited as the chronologically first Gospel, a regular part of your bible reading.
Mark’s gospel has inspired more than one of my ideas for an article, because it is full of quirky facets. Reading it has been fun, as well as transformative. I have found in Mark, an earthy, masculine, stern Jesus, who makes no compromises and always has a swift rebuke. He rebuffs Peter, one of his closest friends and the mouthpiece of the 12, with the same harsh words Mathew and Luke’s gospel record him using against Satan. Suffice it to say that I commend the Gospel of Mark, and, if you, like me, had set it aside, I think it deserves another look.
All that by way of preface, I’m now prepared to share with you what I consider to be a colossal find! When reading the account of the rich, young ruler, I noticed that Jesus bade him 1) take up his cross and 2) follow me. I was stunned by the implications. This is an amazing discovery! Don’t think so? Hear’s why you’re wrong; in the other gospels, the only time Jesus ever commanded anyone to take up their cross and follow Him was when He was speaking to one of his 12 Disciples! Ka-boom!
Exhilarating! It wasn’t just any old follower that Jesus said these words to. It wasn’t some member of the rabble, an unknown face in the multitude, or some common saying of our Lord’s. This was next level stuff. It represented a dimension of Jesus ‘following’ that few had ascribed to. Taking up the cross and following Jesus, was a command he gave to his closest followers, his 12 Disciples, whom he had hand picked. “Now wait just a cotton picking minute,” some of you astute Bible scholars may be screaming at your monitors. In Mark 8:34-38, only 2 chapters earlier, Jesus called “the people” to Himself and said “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
This seems to contradict the special nature of the call to “take up your cross and follow me.” It seems to render what I’ve been saying not so spectacular after all. If Jesus reserved the call to take up the cross and follow him for his hand selected disciples, then why does Mark 8:34 tell us he called “the people” to himself? Great question! Here’s another great question, why does it use the term ‘the people’ rather than ‘the multitudes’, as it does in the beginning of the chapter? The solution may be found in the fact that “the people” were in Bethsaida.
What does that have to do with anything? Well, for starters, Bethsaida was the location of the lonely, far flung, sparsely peopled, desolate place where Jesus did the Feeding of the Four Thousand. (Jesus did large scale miracles like this, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, in wide open spaces, out of towns. In fact, Jesus lead the blind man out of town, before he healed him. Why does Jesus take the trouble to walk this poor blind man all the way out of town, prior to doing the miracle?) Bethsaida, to this day, leaves very little archaeological evidence of having ever been a large, people inhabited town. Historically, it is located on the Northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, but, owing to the lack of 1st century pot shards, etc, there is some debate among scholars. The absence of evidence that a lot of people lived there, shows that Bethsaida was more of a settlement than a city.
At any rate, there were far fewer in the crowd constituting “the people” than there were among “the multitude”, perhaps only scores. Maybe not even that many. So, Jesus’ 12 Disciples most likely constituted a large cohort of the assembled listeners. In fact, having “the people” around, may have been Jesus’ way of collecting witnesses against the Disciples, when he gave them the “take up the cross and follow me” directive. Perhaps “the people” acted as unbiased outsiders, who could attest to the stringent nature of the community of those who consider themselves a disciple.
Or, maybe “the people” (remember this is likely a small group) mentioned were particularly committed to Jesus. Maybe they loved him, and believed on him. Maybe they were among the Four Thousand, and knew Jesus to be a great Prophet. Could it be that Jesus knew they were especially close followers, not quite on a par with his 12 Disciples, and wanted to make them completely clear on what it takes to be a real disciple?
Maybe I haven’t convinced you just how special it was when Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me”. Or maybe, you think I’m on to something radically important. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, no one can deny that Jesus was inviting the rich young ruler to a life shattering depth of commitment, which included sacrificing all wealth, status, distance from the poor, and self sufficiency. Matt Skinner, writing at WorkingPreacher.com, has some really focused insights on Jesus’ call to the rich, young ruler.
This might be as a good a place as any to mention that none of the gospel refer to him explicitly as “the rich, young ruler”. Ka-boom! That’s just a title we compiled for him, from the combined descriptions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So, that might mean that many of my original preconcieved notions are based on an amalgam description, which the Bible doesn’t even explicitly use.
In the next part I will dissect this passage, and give my insights and remarks. Hopefully, you will see this ho-hum story, we’ve all heard a million times, through new eyes. I was shaken, exhilarated, challenged, offended and humbled by this ground breaking interaction between the Lord and this pious, spiritually hungry, God fearing Jew, the rich, young ruler. Once again, God has blessed me by using His holy Word to impart virtue and grace onto me, and I can only invite you to be a part of what God has done for me.
Bottom line; He deserves a second look. Follow the link below to take an in depth examination of the rich, young, ruler. Join me, will you?