Connections 03.13.2016: Safety versus Sacrifice

Mark 10:17-31

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This lesson covers the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We draw ever closer to Good Friday—the day when we honor the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, who gave up everything for all the people of the world.

What can we possibly give up that would glorify him?

The rich man in Mark’s story met Jesus face to face. He was absolutely sincere. When Christ listed the commandments, the man felt confident…maybe even relieved. “I’ve kept all these since I was a boy,” he said. It seemed that his obedience would earn him eternal life, just as he hoped.

But I think this man knew something was missing. As sure as he felt about his clean record regarding the Law, I believe his spirit was uncertain. He experienced a nagging feeling that he didn’t quite measure up, so he posed his question to Jesus: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” Since he approached Jesus with the knowledge that he had kept the Law as faithfully as possible, what he probably meant was, “What more can I do to inherit eternal life?”

And the answer Jesus gave shocks us just as much as it shocked that rich man. Sell everything I own and give the money to the poor? Everything? All the money? And what’s this about treasure in heaven? Can I eat such treasure? Can it shelter me? Can I wear it? Can I get my work done with it? Can it get me safely and promptly from here to there?

Sure, this command from Jesus sounds beautiful, selfless, breathtakingly generous. But how practical was it for the rich man? How practical is it for us? We can’t deny Americans’ obsession with self-protection. We want to take care of “me and mine.” We want to be sure that we are safe, fed, and comfortable—never mind that many people in the world don’t even have a chance at these things.

But Jesus didn’t call us to be safe. He called us, as Paul put it, to be “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1). That scares me as much as it scared the rich man. Daily, I turn and walk away from Jesus, just like he did. How about you?

Bill Bullard wrote, “The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the ‘self’ kind of understanding” (source unknown).

Jesus spent his life living outside of any concern for himself. Even when he wished for a different way, he resolved to follow God (for example, Mk 14:36). When we can be empathetic to the plight of others—put ourselves in their paths and imagine what it would be like to live their lives—we will find it hard not to help them.

Jesus asks us to help them. It is part of following him.

Discussion

1. How has the season of Lent helped you focus on Jesus’ sacrifice for you?
2. Have you made a symbolic sacrifice during Lent? If so, what is it and how does giving it up draw you closer to Jesus?
3. When you read the passage about the rich man’s conversation with Jesus, how do you feel about the man? How reasonable is Jesus’ command?
4. What do you think about these words from Jesus: “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” (Mk 10:25)?
5. What steps can you take to follow Jesus instead of walking away in fear, disappointment, or frustration? What can you give to others from your abundance that will make their lives easier? Why do you think this matters so much to Jesus?

Reference Shelf

Jesus says that the man lacks one thing, then gives a command with five verbs (deuro, “come,” is technically an adverb that functions imperatively). The five imperatives are meant to be taken together as one act: Go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and come, follow me. Jesus’ invitations to discipleship are tailored to each individual’s needs. This is the only instance in Mark where he instructs a would-be disciple to sell everything and give to the poor. Giving everything to the community briefly became the pattern of the first believers in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44- 45; 4:32-37), as it was among the Essenes (1QS 1.12-13; 6.19-20, 24-25; Josephus, J.W. 2.122), but this pattern is not attested elsewhere in the New Testament. Nevertheless, concern for the poor continued to be a sign of faithfulness in the church (Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10; Jas 1:27; 2:1-8; 1 John 3:17). Peter will claim shortly that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus (10:28), but the command “follow me” was not accompanied earlier by the command to sell everything (1:16-20; 2:14), and the poor appear in only two other passages (the poor widow, 12:42-43, and the anointing of Jesus, 14:5-7). In contrast, the poor are featured much more prominently in Jesus’ teachings in Luke, where the term occurs ten times.

For this man at least, selling his possessions and giving to the poor were bound up with what it would mean for him to follow Jesus. The important element, however, is the last, that he follow Jesus. If he will follow Jesus, he will inherit eternal life. By implication, therefore, this scene is consistent with the voice from heaven at the transfiguration: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (9:7). The answer to the man’s question is that he will find eternal life not in the commandments (Moses and Elijah) but in following Jesus. What he must do to inherit eternal life is to follow Jesus on the way to the cross, and for him that way will require divesting himself of his possessions.

The man’s response stands in dramatic contrast to his extravagant approach to Jesus (v. 17). Whereas he had come on the scene running, kneeling before Jesus, and hailing him, “good teacher,” he left shaken and grieving. When he heard Jesus’ challenge to him, he was dismayed, shocked, appalled (stygnazein). As Augustine observed, “‘he went away sad,’ carrying a great burden of possessiveness upon his shoulders” (Tractate on John 34.8). Jesus had said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off ” (9:43), but this man would not give up his possessions.

The fact that the man had many possessions is suppressed until the last possible moment, causing the reader to replay the entire scene with this new information in mind. Jesus’ comment to the disciples as the man leaves seizes on this point: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (10:23). The adverb “hard” or “difficult” (dyskoløs) is rare, but does not mean “impossible.” Josephus uses it for the difficulty of scaling a wall: “to contend with difficulties [dyskolois] best becomes those who aspire to heroism” (J.W. 6.36, LCL 3:387).

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 337–38.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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