To Come into the Kingdom

In Mark 10:17-31, Mark shares a story about an encounter Jesus had with a certain man one day.  In sharing this story, Mark reports the actions taken and the words spoken.  But in verse 21 Mark slips in more than just a record of the actions and the words; Mark adds an editorial comment.  He tells us, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said….” 

When Mark tells us about Jesus “looking at him,” he is reporting what he saw.  When he goes on to tell us what Jesus said, he is reporting what was heard.  But in between, Mark asserts that Jesus “loved him.”

This isn’t as much what Mark saw or what he heard, but it’s what Mark knew about Jesus in general, and it’s what he knew about Jesus’ heart toward this man in particular.  Because of this editorial comment, we must keep in mind that the rest of what takes place in this encounter flows from Jesus’ love for this man and is an expression of Jesus’ love for him.

What is it that takes place after this declaration of Jesus’ love? 

Jesus tells him, “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.” 

How can it be an expression of love to tell someone to sell everything they own and to give the money to the poor?

It is only loving if what Jesus offers is better than the treasures this man holds onto. 

When I was in college, I flipped my bicycle and my body over a car.  I landed on the sidewalk with a twisted bicycle and a separated shoulder.  Doctor cut my shoulder open and fastened the bones back together with a couple of nuts and bolts.  For the next 10 weeks, my arm was strapped to my side, immobile.  Shortly before Christmas, I was to return to the hospital to have my shoulder opened up again for the removal of the nuts and bolts.  I was apprehensive and suggested to the doctor that he could skip the surgery and leave the nuts and bolts in my shoulder.  He answered matter-of-factly, “We don’t have to operate again.  We can leave the nuts and bolts where they are, but you will never be able to use your arm again.”  His tone did not strike me as particularly loving, but the truth was.  Despite my apprehensions about the surgery, he was offering me something far better than life with an immobile arm.

On November 12, 1859, a young Frenchman named Jules Leotard climbed to a platform high above the crowd at the Cirque Napoleon in Paris, France, and performed a fete that no one before him had ever done.  Holding onto the trapeze bar, he swung away from the platform, then he let go of the bar and dashed unsupported through the air for 15 feet before grabbing a bar that had been sent swinging toward him.  No one before him had ever let go of the bar away from the safety of the platform without first taking hold of another bar, but Jules did so.  For the first time in history, a daring young man on the flying trapeze had actually flown through the air with nothing to hold onto.  That day, Jules Leotard brought to the trapeze a marvelous new sense of thrill and excitement.  It only happened, though, because Jules was willing to stop clinging to the bar.

That’s what Jesus invites this rich young man to do.  Because he loved him, Jesus invites this man to let go of the possessions he is clinging to so that he can told hold of something far better. 

After the man turns away from Jesus’ offer, Jesus tells his disciples, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Some have suggested that the “Needle’s Eye” was a low and narrow gate beside one of the main gates of a city.  During the day, all the trade and traffic would pass through the larger main gate, but at night the main gate would be locked and guarded so that no invading army could sweep into the city.  But the low and narrow gate was normally left open, allowing a straggler who came along after dark to enter into the safety of the city walls.  This low and narrow passage was barely large enough for a man to walk through.  For a camel, it was even more difficult.  It could be accomplished only if the camel was stripped of the load it carried then led through upon its knees.

Like the camel going through the eye of a needle, the rich man who inquired about inheriting eternal life is welcome in the kingdom of God, but the only way he can get in is by taking off his load and coming through upon his knees.

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