The barrier of self-sufficiency (Mark 10:17-31)

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A man comes to Jesus and asks him how we can receive eternal life.  We discover three important things about the man

  1. He is pious – he has kept the law.
  2. He is wealthy
  3. Jesus loves him

Jesus is keen for this man to receive what his heart desires, eternal life.  So, he does two things.  First of all, he challenges the man’s understanding of goodness. The man has given Jesus the honorific title “Good teacher.” Jesus won’t allow him to get away with a careless, unthought through word of praise.

“Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”

This does two things. First, it pushes the man to think about Jesus’ identity. If Jesus truly is good, then that means the man is hearing God speak. He is one who seeks to do what God asks of him in the commandments but will he now respond obediently to God? Secondly, it challenges his own self-assessment.  He believes that he is a law keeper. Does that mean he is good enough? Well, Jesus finds something lacking in him.

So, Jesus instructs him to give up all his possessions, to sell what he has, give the proceeds to the poor and to follow him.  Now, almost to a person, we’ve tended to get ourselves in a muddle over this.  Some have turned this passage into a bit of a political mantra. We’ve focused on the bit about it being difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom and turned it into “it’s impossible.” Jesus does not say that.  We’ve taken Jesus’ specific words here and turned them into a general instruction about what to do with wealth.

The irony is, that I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has followed the instructions themselves fully and completely. Notice that the man isn’t told to divest himself of much of his wealth, he’s not told to live frugally. He’s not told to put aside a reasonable amount for him to live on and then give the rest away. He’s told to get rid of everything to follow Jesus.

On the other hand, there are plenty who go to the opposite extreme of explaining away this passage so that they almost cut it out of their Bibles completely, so keen are they to justify a level of comfort and prosperity.

It’s important to see that Jesus isn’t giving the man instructions on how to live his life as a believer. There is plenty of challenging teaching on that when it comes to our possessions and comfort. Rather, Jesus is confronting the very obstacle that will prevent the man from coming into the kingdom, the thing that keeps him from truly being part of God’s people. The man is self sufficient. He relies on his wealth and he relies on his ability to keep commands. Yet, even still, something nags away at him telling him that there must be something else. 

Jesus wants him to know though that it isn’t just that these things get him part way and he needs to find the rest of the answer. No, the man must completely give up on the very things he relies upon. He must forsake and renounce his self sufficiency so that he becomes completely dependent on Jesus.

The man goes away sad and Jesus describes the challenge that there is for rich people ensnared by their wealth to give up their old life and depend upon him. Yet, Jesus insists that he has the power to break into the most stubborn, proud and greedy of hearts.

Is there anything that you are relying on, seeking sufficiency in instead of in Jesus?

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