• Rev. Izzy Harbin

Mark 10:17-22 - What Binds Us?

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.


“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gets asked this question on three separate occasions—two involving the man in our passage (once in Mark 10 and once in Luke 18), and one involving a lawyer in Luke 10 (better known as the story of the Good Samaritan).

If ever there was a time for Jesus to spell out in no uncertain terms what we must actually do in our lives to inherit eternal life, this is that moment. But Jesus’ response reorients us to a different reality, an unfolding kingdom of God that we are invited into in this moment. Jesus’ understanding of eternal life is a call to be present in “the here and the now,” not for some unknown heaven that feels inaccessible while still living.


Let’s start with the more familiar story of the Good Samaritan.


In the story of the Good Samaritan, an attorney asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds to the attorney with a question, “What does the law say?” The attorney states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (The answer given by the attorney mirrors the answer given by Pharisees in Matthew 22). Jesus agrees with the man stating, “You have spoken rightly.” But then the attorney gets cheeky with Jesus and asks, “Yes, but who is my neighbor?” To this question, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In the end, we have our formula for inheriting eternal life: love God, love neighbor, love self, and show mercy.


Now let’s look at the story of the rich man in both Mark 10 and Luke 18.


In both the Mark and the Luke passages, we are confronted by a man (In Mark, just a man; in Luke, a ruler; in both, wealthy) who asks Jesus the all-important question regarding the inheritance of eternal life. This time Jesus points to the law. Jesus doesn’t really ask the man if he has kept the commandments, but instead makes a declarative statement about the commandments, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” The man in both accounts does not miss a beat; he immediately states, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” I don’t know of many people who could boldly state that with any confidence, believing that it is actually true.

In these passages (the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man), there is a harkening-back to the law—either to the letter of the law: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother,” or to the spirit of the law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is drawing our attention back to our behavior; back to how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.


What the “rich man” struggles with in our passage isn’t that he doesn’t understand the law—both letter and spirit—but he wants to hold on to all that the world has afforded him. Jesus is asking this guy to go one step further; not just live the law in its most basic form, but to examine his heart, see where the world is keeping him trapped, and to let all that stuff go. For this guy, his wealth was his barrier to following Jesus.


We, too, must ask ourselves this question. What binds us to the world? What prevents us from being fully invested in God’s kingdom? This second question also gets played-out in this passage, even though it isn’t clearly stated in Mark 10. Luke 18 spells it out: “24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” For Jesus, the kingdom of God was a present-day reality. It was unfolding in front of them. Jesus invited the rich man to sell everything and join Jesus; to enter into the kingdom of God in a way that required self-sacrifice, but the man could not let go of what bound him to the material world to which he had grown accustomed. Are we able to join in God’s unfolding kingdom, to be fully present with God now? What binds you to this world? What do you need to give up in order to fully enter into God’s unfolding kingdom?


May God continue to bring about change and transformation in your life, may you take time during this Lenten Season to self-reflect and determine those things which bind you to this world. May we enter into God’s unfolding kingdom NOW, and enjoy a life of service, one to another.




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