Jesus sets out on the next stage of his journey to Jerusalem and Mark illustrates the cost of becoming a disciple by the arrival of an unnamed man, who asks about the requirements for eternal life.
He tells Jesus that he has faithfully kept the commandments, then Jesus invites him to come with him as his disciple. But the cost proves too high: it is only when he sadly declines the invitation that the evangelist reveals that he is a wealthy person.
This leads on to Jesus’ teaching about riches as an obstacle to being a disciple, and to the disciples’ fundamental question about being saved at all. They are then confronted with the idea of salvation as God’s gift. A rich person may have ample opportunity to keep the commandments, but this is no advantage over those less fortunate.
Peter then raises the question of those who have embraced voluntary poverty so that they can accompany Jesus as his disciples, unencumbered by possessions. Mark is the only Gospel writer in which we find Jesus’ promise of a new family and new possessions, the hundredfold promised by hearing and putting into practice the word of God in the parable of the sower. The inclusion of the reference to persecutions would make perfect sense to Mark’s community, as it would to many Christians in our time.
Mark does not have the same very negative attitude to wealth as we find in the writings of his fellow evangelist Luke, but, all the same, he does regard it as an obstacle to being a disciple of Jesus. It is hard to imagine that this demand of Jesus for a radical break with family and possessions which he describes is remotely possible forall but a small number of people. Many Christians will, understandably, conclude that this incident does not have anything to say to them.
But there must be some lesson which applies to all of us, and it might be summed up in the implicit question which Jesus is asking this prospective disciple: “How much am I worth to you?” The cost was too high for the person in the story, and Mark is challenging all those who read or hear his Gospel. Is there anything in our lives more important to us than Jesus? Having a family and the responsibilities that go with it is the way in which most Christians live their calling as disciples, so perhaps the idea of living as simply as we can would make more sense: not getting caught up in the relentless pursuit of things which are not really essential, and which can distract us from those which are truly important.
Many of the details in the Gospel stories do not apply to our time, but the teachings of Jesus which they present do. It is up to us to find appropriate ways to live them in our own lives.
- Mark does not have a sermon on ethical behaviour as do Matthew ( on the mount) and Luke ( on the plain).
- Jesus’ teaching is given in response to actual situations.
- Mark’s community is familiar with persecution under the Roman emperor Nero.
Take some money, coins or a note, in your hand: reflect on how much Jesus means to you.