A nearly perfect young man runs up to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What we know from the start is that the young man is not homeless or he would have asked, “Where can I sleep tonight?” We know he is not hungry or he would have ask, “Where can I find something to eat?”
Most of us who read this post that I am writing have our fundamental needs met and are not hungry or homeless. So our questions are, “How can I find meaning in life?” “How can I be happy?” “How can I be loved?” We have probably even wondered how we might inherit eternal life.
As so often the case when someone comes to Jesus with a question he first responds with a question, “Why do you call me good?” It is worth noting that we have next to no examples in antiquity of anyone coming to a teacher and calling them “good.” We do find people falling at Jesus feet. The question Jesus raises is a pretext for telling the young man that God is the only one who is good.
Jesus goes on with the indirect question to the young man about his having met the Ten Commandments (in fact one of them is not found in the Decalogue [identify which one that is]). The young man confirms that indeed he had kept all of the commandments since he was young. He must have thought by now that most of the job to gain eternal life—that is enter the kingdom of God—was well in hand. But Jesus breaks out with the critical, loving line, “You lack one thing.” The young man was saddened ("shocked") because he had this one problem of not having given up his wealth. He must have thought, this is impossible. Jesus confirms that indeed it is impossible, “but not for God, for God all things are possible.”
It is interesting to note this is the single example of someone in the gospel of whom it is said so explicitly that Jesus loves him. It is also the only individual who seems not to have taken up Jesus call to follow him.
The discussion about the obstacle of wealth to entering the kingdom of God perplexes the disciples who are warned about the complications of the camel passing through the eye of the needle. Of course it is easy to imagine the disciples who are trying to save their own necks just as we contemporary hearers are trying to shrink our camels and find needles with the largest possible eyes.
The concluding proverb (Mark 10:32) sums up the radical values Jesus has presented since the second prediction of the passion (Mark 9:31). There are parallels to this final proverb first heard in Mark 9:35 and also in Matthew 20:16 and Luke 13:30. Most importantly Jesus continues to subvert so many of the conventional values.
The way Jesus is portrayed as penetrating the central issues of his life and ministry leave us with clear choices but also hard decisions so long as we neglect fully understanding the gift of God’s grace.
One of the ways contemporary critics have spoken about the peculiar problems we Americans have when it comes to our consumerism and effort to acquire more wealth is summed up in the coined term, affluenza, from affluence and influenza. Our contagious search for ever more wealth to gain more things makes us even more challenged than the rich young man who came to Jesus asking about how to inherit eternal life. We must come to understand that it is by faith in the grace of God that we are saved not by what we accumulate through human means. We seek the impossible possibility.