Mark 10:17 to 22 — Jesus and the Rich Young Man

The Gospel of Mark is a narrative, in the oral tradition of early Christian teaching. To understand the story of the rich man’s conversation with Jesus, one needs to view the Gospel in total. In this Gospel, Jesus is a mentor and teacher of the people. Jesus is teaching the truths of the Kingdom of Heaven. Moreover, Jesus is leader to the disciples/apostles.

Mark wrote his narrative in active voice telling the events in the discipling of the apostles and ministry to the Chosen People of God. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus talks with people in all walks of Jewish life.

Thimmes (1992) helps explain the constituents of Marks Gospel. For Mark, constituents are groups of people, the twelve (apostles), religious leaders, Jesus’ family, crowds of people, and women. She continues to write that individual characters, like the rich young man, appear at times; however, they appear in justification of Jesus, His actions, His mission.
Inner Texture/Intertexture

The inner texture – repeated patterns of speech and structure (Bekker, 2005) – include the theme of teaching, preaching to the people, offering insight to the apostles, challenging the teachers of religion, and commanding followership. To the people following Jesus, He tells simple stories for their understanding, to the apostles, He explains the parables in depth as to assure their understanding and their ability to spread the truth after the Accession. To the scholars of Jewish religion, Jesus traps them in their own words.

Intertexture – the tapestry woven into modern society (Bekker, 2005): The Church today continues to teach and interpret for the faithful. The Gospel of Mark uses intertexture through social topics common to the time in a manner that reflects culture.
Mark wrote based on oral tradition and oral history (Dewey, 2004). Like organizational leadership today, Mark shared Jesus’ vision through story telling, in Mark’s situation, as suggested by Dewy (2004) and Robbins (2005), Mark wrote as scribe of Peter. Peter’s oral history became written history through Mark.

Oral histories and traditions of a great leader adhere to that leader over time. Like modern organizations, myth and folklore help preserve organizational history. We tell the stories in pieces in a way that people can understand the context, and then weave the stories into a text. More than myth and folklore, Mark’s gospel is a factual accounting resulting in little change over time.
Inner Texture in Mark
There are several recurring themes in the Gospel of Mark. We read that Jesus preached, He spoke with authority, He taught. These references tell us Jesus was a teacher. However, teacher has a different meaning today than the time of Jesus. Daily Bible Study (2005) offers a definition of teacher used during the time of Jesus.

Teacher: Rabbi, meaning Teacher, or Master was, and is, a dignified title given by Jews to doctors of the religious law and distinguished teachers. In the New Testament, it was most often recorded when used by His disciples for Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Mark’s use of teacher referring to Jesus is of respect for Jesus’ knowledge of sacred scripture and ability to relate it to disciples and followers.
In the passage, Mark 10:17-22, the word teacher appears twice as spoken by the rich young man, once in the beginning of the story and again in the middle. The rich young man recognizes that Jesus speaks with authority when preaching. This young person did not come upon Jesus; rather he ran to Jesus giving homage by falling to his knees, and addressing Jesus as teacher. Hebrews 7:7 offers some insight to the young man’s behavior, “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” Other accounts suggest the rich young man was a local leader (ruler) to whom others would bow in respect (Luke 18:18).

Recognizing the historical perspective of the teacher and the action of the rich young man to kneel before Jesus, one can understand how this person felt toward Jesus as a leader and teacher of the people. However, did this young man recognize Jesus as the Son of God?
As the story unfolds, the young man also addresses Jesus as good, “good teacher.” Good appears three times in this short passage all in the opening verses. After the young man addresses Jesus as good teacher, Jesus replies by asking the young man to qualify “good,” as “No one is good but God alone.” This line of questioning seems to have a rational logical progression. First Jesus asks why the young man considers Jesus good. Second, Jesus states only God is good. Third, the unanswered question in logical progression is, “you address me as good, I say only God is good. Therefore, if only God is good and you address me as good, do you recognize me as God?” This appears a challenge to the young man to accept Jesus as the human manifestation of God.
What word might the young man have spoken that we translate as good. Searching online sources for “good” in relation to it use in this passage, one Hebrew derivative appeared – tov. In Greek, one finds agathos, meaning that which is good or goodness. Another Greek term is kalodidaskalos, meaning teacher of good things or teaching what is good.

After researching the meanings of the good and teacher used in this passage, one can conclude the rich young man recognized Jesus as a scriptural teacher, with scholarly knowledge, who taught good things. One cannot conclude the young man recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
Stevenson (no date) wrote of the encounter that the rich young man was mistaken that he and Jesus were equally good because of their acts. However, the young man had already stored his good works on earth and related in Matthew 6:16-18.

In the midst of the encounter, Jesus commands the rich young man to obey the commandments. However, Jesus seems to speak to the young man is terms he understands from the Scribes and Pharoses. The pattern Jesus used was unassailable “do not” violate a Commandment. The instruction “do not” repeats five times.

Upon Jesus telling the young man to obey the commandments, the young man replied he obeyed since being a child. He “… felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him” (Mark 10:21).
This story concludes with Jesus final attempt at the young man’s transformation, Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and “follow Me.” Jesus asks this young person to give up his earthly treasure for heavenly treasures. Unable to accept this command, he turns and leaves Jesus. “At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). Although the passage ends with verse 22, Mark writes of Jesus continuing to instruct the disciples on the value of knowing God rather than trusting riches. The young man was unable to surrender riches, position, and title on earth for heavenly treasure.

Social and Cultural Texture

In the time of Jesus as today, wealth was power and status was important. The case to make is the rich young man wanted a place in heaven; however, on his terms. Jesus spoke of the rule of Jewish law obeying the commandments, give up riches, and follow Him. The result is the young man rejects Jesus’ offer and goes away.
Ideological Texture

Mark’s gospel, unlike the others opens with Jesus as the subject, “Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Therefore, Mark places Jesus as central in the passage of the rich young man to teach others on the dangers of wealth. Jesus projects himself onto the rich young man drawing him into scene. The disciples traveled with Jesus, yet they are not a part of the story until verse 23 and Jesus begins His instruction.
Sacred Texture

Jesus tells the young man only God is good. He asks why the young man addresses Him as Good Teacher. In this passage, Jesus reinforces the Jewish law as interpreted by Jewish teachers of the law. Jesus offer to follow Him was not the short cut the young man wanted since it meant giving up “worldly goods” for God’s good.
Opening-Middle-Closing Texture

This passage fits the Robbins (1996) texture pattern having an opening, middle, and a closing.

• Opening, Mark 10:17: Jesus was leaving on a trip when a rich young man came running up to Him asking how he could get to heaven.

• Middle, Mark 10:18-21: Jesus had a conversation with the young man telling him to obey the commandments to reach heaven. Jesus loves the man offers the young man a chance to follow Him, and he rejects Jesus offer.

• Closing, Mark 10:22: As a rich person, he was unable to give up material goods for spiritual goods to attain heaven.

Christian Leadership

How does leadership in the time of Jesus compare to modern leadership? Christian leadership is simple according to Smalling (2005). However simple, he iterates it is not easy. Organizational leaders understand the management paradigm of hierarchical structure; however, fail to recognize the biblical paradigm of servant leadership taught throughout the gospels.

Christian leadership, biblical leadership shared in the New Testament is a gift from God. Mathew 20:20-28 tells of the sons of Zebedee seeking position power in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says in verse 23 that He (Jesus) cannot say who sits where in Heaven, “… Those places are reserved for persons my Father selects.” Zebedee’s sons had ambition which is good in a leader; however, they were self-focused not God focused in the leadership desires. Modern Christian leaders must possess humbleness. Winston (2002) writes of humble and haughty leaders. The former is servant to the goals of the organization and the latter is servant to his/her own goals.
Christian leadership, biblical leadership shared in the New Testament is a gift from God. Mathew 20:20-28 tells of the sons of Zebedee seeking position power in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says in verse 23 that He (Jesus) cannot say who sits where in Heaven, “… Those places are reserved for persons my Father selects.” Zebedee’s sons had ambition which is good in a leader; however, they were self-focused not God focused in the leadership desires. Modern Christian leaders must possess humbleness. Winston (2002) writes of humble and haughty leaders. The former is servant to the goals of the organization and the latter is servant to his/her own goals.
Many texts cite leaders as charismatic, seeking a relationship between the leader and those led. This is probably true of all leadership situations; however, has an “exceptional gift for inspiration and nonrational communication” (DuBrin 2004, pg. 65). Charismatic leaders may be social – doing what is best to benefit others, or personal – doing what is best for self. Christian leaders need to concern themselves for the whole rather than the one.
In organizational change, especially reorganization, and reculturing, leadership is often transformational. A leader may evaluate the organization in terms of forces. There are forces for change and forces against change. The transformational leader must minimize or eliminate the resistance factors so the forward motion of change progresses positively. The rich young man could not rid himself of resistance forces.

A Christian transformational leader needs to know Acts 20:28, to “keep watch over yourself…,” the leaders spiritual welfare. This person must also keep watch over “… all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer.” This element of the verse is very similar to agapao love explained by Winston (2002). Finally, Acts 20:28 concludes “Be shepherds of the church….” Church in organizational terms is the population of people making up the organization.
The first inkling of Jesus’ leadership comes in the first chapter of Mark, verses 21-22. In these, we read how Jesus went into the synagogue and “taught them as one that had authority, not as the scribes.” Modern learning organizations teach employees leadership skills through mentoring, preparing the younger employees for the time that they will take over leadership.
Jesus is not a titled leader; yet he has many followers and fierce official resistance to His authority. Sims (1996) refers to Jesus’ leadership in Mark as a call “from power as dominance to power as participation.” Mark 10:44 relates the servant leadership teaching of Jesus, “And, whoever wants to be greatest of all must be slave of all.” DuBrin (2004) acknowledges leadership as a partnership or relationship over the long-term. DuBrin continues by citing Peter Block’s stewardship theory of leadership. As mentioned elsewhere in this paper, the stewardship theory supposes the greater good of the whole rather than the individual. Successful leaders in modern business recognize their strength come form the collective strength of the group.
Pfeffer (1998) writes of the seven practices of successful organizations in chapter three, and similar to Mark 10:44, he says successful organizations “(r)educe status distinctions and barriers….” (pg.65), and be selective in hiring new people. Jesus was selective in hiring his inner circle. He picked fishermen to make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17). He chose a tax collector (Matthew 10:3, Luke 5:27), although their people considered tax collectors behavior unethical (Mark 2:16, Luke 7:34). The Christian leader, servant/leader selectively gathers others around whom he/she can teach. Then they, in turn, carry the vision and values forward to the next level.

The Christian leadership rests on multiple points. The rich young man passage offers a glimpse of three balance points, God, others and self. Blue (1999) takes leadership in journeys, three separate journeys, yet each dependent on the others. The first journey is upward, having a spiritual relationship with God, integrating God into our lives, being God oriented. The second journey is inward. The inward journey according to Blue is where we “(attend) to our own healing, attending to the stuff that’s wrong with us.” Do not deny your feelings, try to interpret them and learn from them. Feelings are the body’s way of giving us information and we often choose to ignore them. The third, final journey is outward. We cultivate relationships with many and intimacies (platonically – agapao) with a few. We find those who are honest with us and us with them.

Conclusion

Mark 10:17-22 is Jesus’ call to action to give up secular gods. In reciting the Commandments in verse 19, several are not included. Notably, Jesus does not include the First Commandment. Jesus is already aware the rich young man has put other gods before God.

Modern leaders need to observe the events of Mark 10:17-22. It is not a social interaction. Jesus asks this young man to accept a new position, a new work ethic in support of Jesus’ mission. Leaders have a call to service, to serve the organization, its constituents, its community, and its human resources. Winston (2002) charges that too often leaders put people into positions because of technical ability without taking into consideration the overall good of the organization.

Pat Boone in Robertson (2004) asks what if the rich young man had sold everything, “What would he have become” (pg. xiii)? This seems a leadership gamble, select someone because they have technical skills or for their potential to influence the organization.

Leaders often feel they need skill over potential; however, the true servant leader does not need to gamble with human assets. True Christian leaders hire the right person who fits into the organizational culture and begins an educational mentoring program.

Unfortunately, we do not know the answer to Pat Boone’s what if question. The interview did not go well for the rich young man.

Reference:

Bekker, C. (2005). Exploring Leadership through Exegesis. Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.

Blue, K. (1999). Healthy Leadership. The Grace and Healing Conference in 1999. Retrieved November 8, 2005 from http://muchloved.tripod.com/love/kblove1.html#journeys

Dewey, J. (2004). The Survival of Mark’s Gospel: A Good Stroy? Journal of Bibical Literature, 123(3).

DuBrin, A. J. (2004). Leadership: Research Findings, Practices, and Skills (4th Edition). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Hoffman, P. (2001). Retail Leadership Strategy in Tight Labor Markets: Bellevue University
Pfeffer, J (1998). The Human Equation: Building profits by putting people first. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Robbins, V. K. (2005 October 26). The Intertexture of Apocalyptic Discourse in the Gospel of Mark. Emory University. Retrieved on November 8, 2005 from http://www.religion.emory.edu/faculty/robbins/Pdfs/ApocIntertexture.pdf.

Robbins, V. K. (1996). Exploring the Texture of Texts: A guide to socio-rhetorical interpretation. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International.

Robertson, P. & Buckingham, J. (1972, 1995, 2004). The Autobiography of Pat Robertson: Shout it from the housetops. Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos.

Smalling, R. L. (2005). Christian Leadership: Principles and Practicalities [Electronic Version]. Retrieved November 6, 2005 from [http://www.smallings.com/Books/CHRISTIANLEADERSHIP.htm].

Sims, B. J. (1996). Gospel Text, Mark 10:46-52 – The healing of blind Bartimaeus. The Center for Progressive Christianity. Retrieved November 7, 2005 from [https://www.tcpc.org/resources/articles/let_me.htm]

Stevenson, J. (No Date). Entering the Kingdom of God: Mark 10:13-31. Retrieved November 3, 2005 from http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/mark.html

Thimmes, P. (1992). The Gospel of Mark as Good News [Electronic Version]. Catechist, 26, 36-40. Retrieved November 7, 2005 from http://homepages.udayton.edu/~thimmepl/mark.html.

Winston, B. (2002). Be a Leader for God’s Sake. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University School of Leadership Studies.