We call this man the “rich young ruler” but in Mark he is young, he is a man, he seems to be religious, very religious in fact, and right at the end we discover he has many possessions.
Mark wants us to journey with the story – “what must we do to inherit eternal life?”
Can you answer that question? The young man sees eternal life as something to inherit, to grow into as it were. He senses that keeping the commandments may not be enough? By the way the observant will notice that Jesus does not ask him if he keeps the commandment not to covet! Given his possessions and his decision to keep them and walk away from Jesus maybe he was not so good at avoiding coveting.
The observant will also notice that Mark tells us that Jesus looks at this man and loves him- a very unusual comment. Jesus likes this eager young man, and maybe he knows the inner battle and even the result. Some have called this man the 13th disciple, the one who did not follow (unlike Matthew the tax-man who threw a party or Zacchaeus the rich tax-man who pledged to give his money away).
To inherit eternal life we have to live looser to the possessions we store up on earth. We may not be Jeff Bezos rich; we are not the super-rich but I suspect we all have more than enough (which is fine, except that we know so many do not have nearly enough. It is not the good life that is the problem in itself, it is the fact that we have more than we need when so many have nothing or virtually nothing, and as we understand our history better so we know that the wealth of the West was partially built on the “exploitation” of labour and resources in the other parts of the world.
So what must we do to inherit eternal life? Jesus says at least part of the answer will be found in whether or not we are too attached to our possessions and their acquisition. Jesus loved the young man, but he loved his possessions more.
Rev’d Peter Reiss