Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word

Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word

Article excerpt

Who can be saved?

Sunday, October 15 Mark 10:17-31

HERE COMES that man again, running up to Jesus with a question about eternal life. We can hear those dreaded words on Jesus' lips even before the man approaches: "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." Even before Mark tells us so, we know that the rich young man will turn away grieving, for he has many possessions. And some of us grieve with him as we see him leave, knowing his choice could be ours as well.

I remember the first time I read this story. I was seven years old, reading Mark's Gospel in bed. When I got to verse 25, I was so alarmed that I slammed the Bible shut, jumped out of bed, and went running down the hall. I shook my mother out of a sound sleep. "Mom," I whispered urgently, "Jesus says that rich people don't go to heaven!"

"We are not rich. Go back to bed," came my mother's response.

I knew better. I knew I had all I needed plus plenty more. I would later learn of fascinating attempts to soften the text (the use of the word "camel" for "rope," of "eye of the needle" for "a small gate"), but the little girl inside me knew that these words of Jesus were clear and hard and scary.

Mark 10:17-31 hangs on the question of eternal life. The rich man wants to know how to get it. The disciples want to know who can have it. And the good news that Jesus offers is this: "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

This story is one of the healing stories. The rich man runs up to Jesus and kneels, just as countless other Jesus-pursuers have done throughout the Book of Mark. The scene is set for him to request and receive healing, and his running and kneeling show that his request is both urgent and sincere. But he is the one person in the entire book who rejects the healing offered him.

"Jesus, looking at him, loved him." Matthew and Luke leave this out. But Mark, always spare with words, takes the space to note that Jesus loves this man. He offers him healing. "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." (In Mark, the word "go" is used almost exclusively in the healing stories.)

What is the healing that this man needs? What he lacks is that he does not lack. This man is possessed--but only by his possessions. Jesus is offering to free him of his possession, to cure him of his excess. …

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