10 October 2021Mark 10:17-31
'But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.' (v. 31)
We live in a world where people aspire to success and celebrate those who achieve it. Success is something we are programmed for early on and can come in many forms from trying to please our parents as a young child, to getting full marks in school tests, winning a race at sports day, or getting the grades to achieve a university place or dream job. We are often impressed with successful people and hope to be among them. Our fascination with success is reflected in our interest in celebrities and the rich and famous who fill the pages of magazines or attract the most approval in social media postings.
While the context was different, the basic ideas were the same at the time the disciples heard the conversation between the rich man and Jesus. Here was a man who was evidently blessed by God. He had done well for himself and become wealthy, which t would suggest God had favoured him. On top of that he appeared, at least by his own account, to be a good man, one who both knew and obeyed the Jewish commandments. So the disciples were perplexed and surprised when Jesus suggested that this rich man would struggle to enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 23). Such an idea went completely against the societal norms, so much so that Mark emphasises this three times, how the rich man himself was shocked (v. 22) and how the disciples were perplexed (v. 24) and astounded (v. 26).
However, on a Sunday when we are encouraged to think about those who are detained in or who work in prisons, as well as those who are homeless, we are reminded that Jesus put people first who others in society put last, and those who expected to be first were left disappointed.
Jesus was setting out on a journey (v. 17), the first indication that he has now started on his final journey towards Jerusalem (v. 32). It makes the discussions he has about the kingdom of God all the more urgent and important. He needs people who can really commit to him, who are prepared to “deny themselves and take up their cross” (Mark 8:34) in order to follow him. He doesn’t deny the rich man this opportunity and invites him to “come, follow me” (v. 21) but it’s the man himself who does not feel able to rise to the challenge and join the journey.
- Are there things that hold you back from fully committing to joining the journey with Jesus? Pray about how you can overcome this.
- Pray for those people in our society who might be regarded as of least worth – the prisoner and those who struggle with addiction and sleep rough on the street. Pray for those who work to help and support them.
- Jesus mistakenly includes “you shall not defraud” as a commandment, instead of “do not covert” (v. 19). Does that matter, or is it a reference specifically to the rich man?