11 October 2015

Mark 10:17-31

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (v. 31)

Psalm: Psalm 90


Sometimes Jesus could be quite exasperating! He seems at first to accept the conventional Jewish idea that faithful obedience to the commandments is all that is required in order to "inherit eternal life" (v. 17). Underlying this was the belief, shared by many 1st-century Jews, that one day there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the 'righteous' (who have kept the commandments) will then live forever in a renewed earth. (It is interesting that all the commandments Jesus lists are to do with the integrity of human relationships, including one that is not in the Ten Commandments - the one about defrauding (verse 19).) And this exceptional young man can tick all those boxes. But then Jesus suggests that there is more at stake than just eternal life - what about "treasure in heaven" (v. 21), or additional merit in God's sight? This was a belief, held by some pious Jews, that 'heavenly treasure' was worth far more than 'earthly treasure', and, if the young man was serious, he must be willing to let go of the very thing that, for many other Jews, would identify him as already at the front of the queue - his personal wealth. But this was a step too far for him.

Jesus then goes on to identify "treasure in heaven" with "the kingdom of God" (v. 23). By now the disciples were understandably confused! Jesus then underlined his point about wealth being an obstacle to entry to the kingdom by referring to the obvious impossibility of a camel being threaded through the eye of a needle (verse 25). More confusion. But they, like us, may have missed the point: Jesus had re-written the rules. Eternal life in God's kingdom depends on four things - personal integrity, self-sacrifice, following him (whatever the cost) - and the limitless goodness of God. Treasure in heaven is not cheap - it is costly for us and, as Jesus went on to prove, costly for him too.

To Ponder

  • Jesus seems to suggest here that personal integrity (especially in human relationships) and self-sacrifice are prerequisites for following him and 'inheriting eternal life'. For many Christians, though, their 'faith' (and God's grace) is all that matters. How do you balance 'behaviour' and 'belief'?
  • Did Jesus lay a general responsibility on the wealthy to redistribute their wealth to the poor, becoming poor themselves in the process, or does this only apply to those who are called to follow him? Was this ever a realistic or sustainable option? How might this influence the way you vote in the next General Election?
  • "But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." In Mark's Gospel, the usual social order of rich-poor; men-women; adult-child; master-servant is often reversed. What evidence do you see of this in the church today?


Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.