Mark takes a different twist here in this interaction between Jesus and the man with a question. Unlike other question and answer sessions where people, especially the disciples, make their questions focus on themselves, this seems like a genuine question. The man asking seems to ask with the hope of living out the answer while following Jesus, as opposed to many of the self-serving questions we’ve seen. The response from Jesus lifts up that genuineness as well, unlike some of his occasionally sharpish responses. Sharpish, like from Mark 7 a couple of weeks ago when he responds to the disciples asking about the meaning of a parable, “Then do you also fail to understand?”
Jesus’ response to the man asking an honest question is very different from some his sharpish responses to self-serving questions. His first response of, ”19 You know the commandments…” could be construed as snarky maybe but his second response of “21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said,…” pretty much tells us the approach that Jesus is taking here. He knows the man is legitimately asking what he can do to inherit eternal life, rather than asking how he can obtain power or riches so Jesus responds in a kind and loving manner.
There is something to be said for seeking the truth rather than seeking what serves us best. The man asking a question here is seeking the truth rather than what serves him best. Well, in a way. Eternal life serves each of us best certainly but in a way that is best for all of us. He wasn’t asking how to obtain eternal life before that other person gets it and he’s left out. He just wanted to know what he needed to do.
Seeking the truth rather than seeking what serves us best is something that has a pretty broad application in our faith life. Our prayers, for example. How many times have you found yourself praying for some tangible object that only serves us? I’m not talking about a piece of medical equipment to replace the one that is nearly worn out. That’s a legitimate tangible item. I’m talking about those times you prayed for that 8” dobsonian telescope with the 1200mm focal length that is in your Amazon shopping cart. Those kinds of tangible objects that, while fun, are pretty self-serving to pray for.
I think most things in our faith life fall into the category of seeking the truth instead of what serves us. That’s kind of the point that Jesus is making here with the man with a question. Most people of faith in Christ try to do the right thing, I think. There’s glaring exceptions that make the news but I think most of us who follow Christ legitimately want to follow him. The trouble is getting past what serves us best to the actual truth.
That’s the hurdle that the man with a question ran into. He came to Jesus with a sincere question that came from a heart that wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to do the right thing but he didn’t like the answer Jesus gave him and so he couldn’t move down his lane. He had the step count down but he just couldn’t get his release to work so that he could get over the hurdle. He just couldn’t release the hold his stuff had on him and the weight of his stuff prevented him from making it over. All he could do was walk away.
That’s the trouble with stuff. It gets ahold of us and gets in the way of our faith. There’s nothing inherently wrong with stuff. Stuff is pretty much neutral, all things being equal, I think. It just kind of sits there and doesn’t concern itself with too much. It’s our reaction to our stuff, or perhaps even more importantly, our reaction to someone else’s stuff, that gets us in trouble.
Certainly, it is easy to see how a desire for stuff can get us into trouble. That’s the easy part. It’s pretty obvious that sitting around enviously looking at stuff on Amazon hour after hour is a bad thing. Or buying stuff we can’t really afford, also a bad thing. No big secrets there. The more insidious challenge to our faith is when we have too much stuff and we don’t even realize how it is affecting our life. Like when taking care of too much stuff gets in the way of our taking sabbath time to worship, rest, and rejuvenate. That’s the big kind of danger that Jesus describes with the camel going through the eye of a needle.
That’s where Jesus comes in with his command to the man with a question. That’s why Jesus tells him to get rid of everything. I don’t think it was probably a literal command. I’ll be the first to admit I have too much stuff and could do with much less. But if all of us got rid of all our stuff it’s going to create some economic problems for everyone.
What Jesus is trying to get the man with a question to see is that eternal life with Christ is not a question what we can do but instead what we can be. We can’t ‘do’ our way into heaven. Keeping the commandments is a fine thing and a worthy endeavor. The world is a better place if we’d just follow the Ten Commandments, never mind the rest. But keeping the commandments doesn’t get us into heaven. Having stuff is fine unless the desire for more stuff or the maintenance on what we already have gets in the way of our faith life. Getting rid of our stuff doesn’t get us into heaven.
What gets us into heaven, what assures us of eternal life, is simply God’s grace. A focus on what we do with commandments or do with our stuff gets in the way of being in Christ. We are saved by _________ through our _________ not by any works that we do.
In this season of Lent it is popular to give up something and if you want to give up all your stuff, well I can’t really recommend that so much. What I can recommend is giving up our focus on our self and our stuff and take on a focus on Jesus. That’s what Jesus told the man with a question then and is tell us today.