There has been some discussion about the story of the rich young man in the comments after my last post. In this post I would like to make a point that hasn’t been made in that thread yet. And that is the placement of this story in Mark’s Gospel.
One aspect of Bible study that is often neglected is seeing the structure and flow of the individual books of the Bible and how each part relates to other parts. This is something people often don’t see especially when it comes to the four Gospels. Without giving it much thought, many people think that the four Gospels are just individual stories and parables of Jesus strung together without much structure. But nothing is further from the truth than that. Each Gospel writer wrote with a specific purpose in mind. Each carefully structured his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Each placed the individual stories in their Gospels as carefully as a jeweler places each gem in its setting.
We see Mark doing that in the placement of the story of the rich young ruler. He significantly placed it right after the story of Jesus’ blessing of the little children. As such it stands in bold contrast to it especially Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:15. “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” As one commentator pointed out, children are not like adults who don’t want anything given to them. Rather they eagerly and ashamedly receive things as gifts. This is all the more striking when we say that Luke reports that the little children being brought to Jesus were infants. (Luke 18:15) The point is little children, especially infants, don’t do anything. They receive things. As Jesus says, “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
What a striking contrast then is offered by the rich young man! The topic is the same: entering the kingdom of heaven. (Compare Mark 10:15 with verses 23-24.) But the approach is so much different. The young man wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life. As has been stated in the comments on the previous post, if “doing” is the question, then there is no room for talk of the Atonement – then there is no room for “trying”. It’s all about doing. That is the level Jesus answers him. In effect Jesus says, if you don’t want to receive it as a small child but want to earn it, then you had better do everything. That’s why Jesus tells him to sell his possessions.
This, however, is something no one can do. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10) Jesus makes that same point to the disciples when, after the young man left, he said: “With men it is impossible.” (v. 27) Man can’t do what needs to be done to inherit eternal life.
But what man can’t do, God did. “with God all things are possible”. Jesus did do everything that was commanded and he did it for us. Jesus paid the full price for every one of our sins. Jesus did it all so that God can give us eternal life in his kingdom, living in his mansions, freely as a gift.
That’s why little children, and not hard-working adults, are to be our role models. That’s the clear lesson Mark is teaching us by contrasting these two stories.