Jesus and the Rich Man
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
A rich man came up to Jesus asking “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Or in other words, what should I do to live more faithfully? Jesus tells him to follow the Ten Commandments and other Jewish laws. That is, if he is a faithful Jew, he will inherit eternal life. The man responds and tells Jesus that he has been following the commandments all his life.
At that point, Mark writes that Jesus looks at the rich man and loves him. What a lovely image: Jesus turns his eyes to see this man and looks upon him with love. Each of us is loved by Jesus, even the rich who are criticized in many parts of the Bible. Jesus looks at this rich man and sees a good person who has been faithfully following his religious teachings, as he has been taught.
But then Jesus invites the rich man to enter into a deeper relationship with him, to deepen his commitment to living a faithful life. Jesus invites the rich man to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and come and follow Jesus.
This is a difficult thing for the rich man to hear. Mark says the man was shocked and went away grieving. And whenever this story is told, it usually ends here. The rich man goes home and keeps his riches. End of story.
But maybe this isn’t the end of the story. The Gospel of Mark is ambiguous, the writer doesn’t really say how it ends. So maybe there was a different ending.
Yes, the man was shocked and grieved by what Jesus said: to sell all he had and give the money to the poor. It would be tough for any of us to hear. But this man was looking for something more than just a comfortable life and a good time. He had left his wealthy neighborhood, the wealthy part of town, to seek out Jesus who was probably hanging out with poor folks. This man is a seeker on a journey, searching for how to live more faithfully. Not unlike many of us.
Maybe he went home and, after the initial shock wore off, he started to think about what Jesus had said. He felt Jesus’ love. He continued to hear Jesus’ call to deepen his commitment, to live more faithfully.
Maybe after a few days passed, or a few weeks or months or years, he did start down a new path toward greater commitment. Maybe he didn’t immediately (or ever) give away all his wealth but maybe he did give away some of it. Maybe he started hanging out with the Jesus crowd. As time went by, maybe he became more and more committed to this deeper, more faithful path.
Many of us may be the rich man with too much stuff. We are also seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus. Jesus is looking at us with eyes filled with love and, at the same time, calling us to a deeper relationship. May we each hear our call from Jesus, and respond.
- Compared to people in the rest of the world, many of us are rich. Do you feel rich? In what ways are you rich? In what ways are you poor?
- Can you identify with the rich man, a rich person who wants to live faithfully and is wondering how to do this?
- How can “rich” Americans live faithfully in a country with millions of poor people, in a world with billions of poor people?
- Some people have the attitude that the poor are responsible for their condition. Do you agree? Why or why not? If not the poor themselves, who or what is responsible?
- In the U.S., the main way anyone escapes poverty is to have a good job, one with good pay and benefits. Are there enough good jobs for everyone? What should we do about the folks who don’t have a good job? What if everyone had a college degree – would there be enough good jobs for everyone?