Mark 10:17-22 The Refusal of the Rich Young Man


Mark 10:17-22


Jesus calls a rich young man whom he loves, but the man cannot bring himself to follow the way of Jesus.


Commentaries on the rich young man often focus on the man’s wealth and whether or not the man is sincere when he claims to have kept all of the commandments. Whether he has literally kept the commandments or not, it is clear from Jesus’ reaction that the man is earnest in his desire to inherit eternal life (10:17). Mark states that Jesus loves the man, and out of love he offers him a two-fold command: To sell all that he has and to follow after Jesus. The man fails on two counts; first of all, he has many possessions and cannot bear to give them away. This point has, however, proved to be somewhat of a red herring in many readings of this episode. While it is true that Jesus warns against the danger of wealth, a focus on giving away possessions misses the young man’s true error.

When the man arrives and kneels before Jesus, he frames his question in a manner that avoids Jesus. He asks an abstract question about eternal life. Jesus redirects this question into a personal commitment. He commands the rich man to follow him. This entails much more than simply being poor; as Jesus has told his disciples and the crowds, following him means public humiliation and losing one’s life. This encounter serves to connect the promise of eternal life to a relationship with Jesus, not an abstract keeping of commands, and it is this shameful relationship that the rich young man refuses to enter into.