Signpost for Sunday 11 October 2015: Job 23:1-9,16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
We hear the words “rich young ruler” and without hesitation recall the story told to us in all the synoptic Gospels. Only Matthew tells us he was young, and only Luke that he was a ruler, but the composite phrase has stuck. Mark’s version brings out Mark’s typical urgent and immediate style – he ran to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. He really wanted to know, unlike the lawyer in Luke’s Good Samaritan story who posed a similar question with an ulterior motive. The rich man was a good man: he had always observed the commandments, but was keen to find out what was missing in his life. He wasn’t too pleased with Jesus’ answer and must have been mystified by it in a culture where wealth and position were seen as God’s reward for a righteous life.
21st century western culture is quite different, but Jesus’ apparently unreasonable answer still bothers us. “Sell all you have and give to the poor” has come up in our small study group. It elicited the not very in-depth response, “But what if everybody did that?” and led into waffle about the good things done by non-Christians. Sometimes our discussion doesn’t take us very far!
In facing up to the matter again this week, I have come across a reference to the Gospel of the Nazarenes, one of those early church writings that didn’t make it into the Canon, which gives a slightly different version of the story and helpfully expands Jesus’ reply to the rich man: “How can you say I have fulfilled the law and the prophets when it is written in the law: you shall love your neighbour as yourself, and lo, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are covered with filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?”
Jesus’ command according to the Gospels was to one man, a man whom he understood, and loved. The lesser command is an ongoing challenge for us all.