Liberating a Rich Man
A Part of the FLIP-THE-SCRIPT SERIES
Semi-regularly on the blog I take familiar passages and after a word-by-word consideration of the original Greek and the contextual assumptions of the time, reframe the text in order to eliminate the pre-existing "song in our head." Too many of us have assumed we know what these passages mean with no regard for their original context or the way they would have been heard by original hearers. While we cannot ever firmly get into the narrative as one to whom the story was written, we can borrow from endless volumes of modern scholarship and return Jesus to the people. FLIP THE SCRIPT intends to do so with vigilance and integrity.
Below, we address one of the most controversial of New Testament passages (Mark 10:17-31), a story used to justify class warfare, to establish power differentials between paid church staff and laity and all-too-often as a lever for guilt and shame as people haven't "Let go" of enough to earn their way to the Kingdom. As you can see from the retelling below, this modern day frame on an ancient text couldn't be farther from the rich meaning cased within. Enjoy:
As Jesus continued on His journey to reveal GOD’s rule, a man rushed to Him and—like so many before him—knelt before Jesus to make a request, “You who possess the message of Ultimate Good, what do I need to do to gain possession of the inherited land of eternal living promised to my people Israel?”
Jesus replied, “A question for you in return: why would you engage me the Ultimate Good? The primary source of Ultimate Good is only GOD. For example, I’m sure you possess knowledge of the good laws which GOD provided:
- “Don’t take life.
- "Don’t betray the bond of marriage.
- “Don’t take possession of what’s not yours.
- "Don’t claim you’ve done things you haven’t.
- “Don’t wrongly withhold good from others.
- “Hold high the value of your parents who’ve made all this possible for you.”
Without thinking what Jesus was alluding to, without recognizing the line of logic in Jesus’ commandments, without seeing that he was being led down a path, and without answering Jesus’ question, the man responded in the way that only made sense to him:
“I’ve followed all these rules since I was a young boy.”
Of course Jesus didn’t ask him about following rules, He asked him why the man recognized the Ultimate Good in Jesus. But rules are how men this one had made sense of the world. Rules to retain the favor of his father, rules to maintain good order, rules for subduing the land which he possessed.
Jesus saw all of this as He gazed deeply into the man’s eyes. All that Jesus saw in him He recognized and loved with Infinite Love. He said to the man, “You are—at your core—impoverished, a slave to your own inheritance. Get on the path by trading in the land you possess and be generous with those who kneel before you; in doing so you will take possession of heaven itself; thus joining and following me on my journey.”
In hearing this, a dark shadow fell over his face, overcome with a sense of loss as the inherited land he possessed was substantial. He returned to the path from whence he came.
Jesus looked around and engaged his students, now that the man was gone: “What a difficult journey for those who depend on their own possessions to enter the land where GOD rules.” The students, who had always thought that owning land was a blessing from God, were shocked by his teaching. But Jesus doubled-down on this thought.
“My dependent children, it is a difficult journey to enter the land where GOD rules. A camel will go through the eye of a needle more easily than the wealthy will enter into the GOD’s eternal rule.” The disciples had been extensively taught about the abundance which would be afforded to Israel when her GOD returned to rule the earth. The implications of His teaching cut them to the core with dread.
They said to each other, “If this is true, what miracle power will bring deliverance from all our suffering?”
“For this task, human beings are powerless. But not so with GOD. When you are with GOD, there is always miracle power.”
Peter wouldn’t let it go and said to Jesus, “Jesus, are you paying attention? We are entirely separated from everything and everyone to be on this journey with you!”
Jesus understood what Peter was saying and responded with deeper clarity, “Let it be as I have said to you all along: anyone who is separated from homes or siblings or parents or land due to me or due to this good news will take possession of a hundred times more family and inheritance in the course of time. Separation from your familial inheritance and all the trouble that goes with it is nothing compared to the inherited land to which I am taking you: GOD’s rule of eternal living which has been here since the beginning. In that place, the one who is ascribed importance will assume the emptiness of these last days, and those who have been separated from everything—the “last” of these lost times—will finally receive their importance.”
You see, Jesus was on His way to reveal the fullness of GOD’s rule. He was on a journey to Jerusalem to empty Himself of all the importance He was worthy of. He would do what He knew the young man couldn’t, bind himself to GOD as the Ultimate Good, the source of all His longing. Though He and GOD were the same, He did not consider this equality something to be possessed. In fact, He planned to let it all go and separate Himself from parents and siblings and the inheritance of His place in the Trinity to show His students how to enter GOD’s rule. If they could follow Him on the self-emptying path, they would see that when we don’t hold to what we think we deserve, we are free to receive the miracle power required to be delivered from all our suffering.