Jesus is out on the road or “on the way” as another translation puts it. This phrase indicates that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. In fact, Mark uses this phrase again just a few sentences later (10:32) when Jesus tells his fearful 12 Disciples that he will be betrayed and given over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned, and handed over to the gentiles for execution. This tete-a-tete with the rich, young ruler interrupts Jesus’ dutiful march to Calvary. The sorrowful presents himself, kneels, and asks how to get to Heaven. The irony of course is not lost to us, that Jesus is en route to be crucified, thereby putting to death the very sins that keep us from enjoying peace with God. This would be a great opportunity to expound the scriptures, explain the need for a God-man to die as a substitutionary atonement. But, Jesus does not go into a lengthy theological discussion about how he will be crucified, and his blood will atone for the sins of his people, and His resurrection would secure eternal life for all those who believe. Instead of theology, he offers a cross. Instead of an explanation he prescribesHe demands discipleship. He is going to his cross, and he wants the ruler to take up his own cross. He does not make a demand of the ruler, which he is not willing to undertake himself. “No servant is above his master,” he told his disciples on the night of his betrayal. I expect everyone of you to die on a cross, just as I am going to die on mine.
Jesus invited this young ruler to empty himself of glory, wealth, and acclaim, making himself of no account. He says to him, “take a step down and see what its like on the bottom. Maybe you’ll find eternal life among the beggars. Maybe God will change your heart towards those that depend on him every moment for their daily bread.” Jesus himself, once stepped down out of a position of indescribable glory, adoration, authority, security, and perfect love. He laid down his rights, privilege, royal titles, courtiers and all the vestiges of his exalted place. Incredibly, He did this to live and die among us, the poor, the blind, the maimed, the naked, the sick the demon harassed, the dead and decaying corpses of people who were intended to be God’s walking image on the earth.
This account has me really worried about myself. I am pretty rich compared to most of the world. Every american lives with unbelievable privilege compared to even our neighbors to the south and in the Caribbean. If you have shoes you are richer than most of the people in the world. If you have access to clean drinking water, and public transportation, you are richer than %75 of the world. If you have hot and cold running water in your home, access to a car or bus, and access to some form of communication device (payphone, cell, computer, telegraph) then you are in the top %95 percentile of earth’s wealthiest. We can’t even hope to know what real poverty looks like, and that makes us like the rich young ruler. Again, I say, I am getting worried for myself.
Are you starting to sweat a little bit? Not so sure of yourself now that you realize you are one of the rich, are you? Well, are you one of the rich or not? If you are reading this on any type of screen, rest assured that you are the Rich Man.
Any attempt to abolish the severity, and alarmingly challenging nature of this passage must be bridled. This passage is not meant to be explained away, or even understood. It is meant to stand in stark contrast with our money loving culture. It is meant to trip us, watch us fall, and it anticipates us seeing something from the vantage point of our knees. This, heretofore, invisible something can only be perceived as we kneel in holy reverence to the Good Teacher, the one who defies our glib categories and feeble theological frameworks, and humbly accept his offer to take up our cross and follow him.
I have to confess that I am left with way more questions than answers. I only hope that I now have better questions. I believe having open ended questions leaves room in our hearts for God to speak. Let’s not be too sure of our theology, like Job’s 3 friends whom God rebuked. But, rather let’s model our hearts after the father of the demon afflicted child, who in Mark 9:24 (NLT) cries out “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” No one who approached Jesus with all the answers ever walked away from the interaction satisfied or feeling proud. Those that approach Jesus needy and beggarly have the best chance of leaving his presence satisfied and enriched.
I leave you with these words from Andy Stanley’s sermon “When Gracie met Truthy” from the series “Christian“. In fact, I give my unreserved recommendation to this entire series of messages. Watch them, they are really powerful.