Jesus continues to preach a radical form of discipleship. In contrast to the worldly ambition of the disciples–who want to be first in the kingdom–Jesus again today bring forward the example of little children. You must be the last to be first. His emphasis in this chapter is again to contrast his way–a way of service and humility and the unpredictability of walking with God by faith–with the way of the world–a way of reasonable good works and practical ambition.
Jesus stands the expectations and ambitions of the world on their head. One way he does this is with his teaching on marriage. The Jews allowed for divorce and re-marriage, but there was debate about it, and wishing to trap Jesus in a legalistic tangle they asked him about divorce. Jesus cuts through all their legalistic details and goes back to the beginning of creation where God establishes marriage as part of the natural order. Divorce was only allowed because of the sinfulness of man. Jesus then calls them to a higher standard–marriage for life and no divorce. Mark uses this not only to establish the foundation for Christian marriage, but also to show that the ways of the gospel overturn the practical, human based religion that we are inclined to make.
This new and radical understanding of faith can only be accepted as a child. So Mark brings the story back to Jesus blessing children and saying we must be like children to accept the way of the Lord with simple obedience, trust and joy.
Jesus contrasts the worldly attitude to marriage with the radical demands of the gospel. Now he contrasts the worldly attitude to money to the radical demands of the gospel. The Jews considered wealth a sign of God’s pleasure and blessing. The rich young man did too. When Jesus asks him about the law he really believes he has done all those things. The rich young man has fallen into the usual human version of religion: being rich, being respectable and obeying all the rules. This is what we think religion is all about–becoming nice, acceptable respectable people.
The beautiful detail of this story is that Jesus looks on the man and loves him. He does not reject the man for his shallow understanding of the faith. He really believes the man wants the best. Then another detail: when teaching about this truth Jesus refers to his disciples as “children”. Again the theme of childhood and the need for innocent and trusting faith is echoed. Just as they must approach the difficult demands of marriage with simple trust, so they must accept the difficult demands of not being attached to wealth and property.
The disciples cannot believe that Jesus says it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. They thought the rich were going in automatically because they were obviously blessed by God. Once again Jesus turns things upside down. Those who give things up not take things up will be blessed.
The disciples say they have given up everything and Jesus says they will receive much more. Then he throws them a curve ball again. Did you see it coming? He says, “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel30who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
They will receive a hundred times more…many good things then he adds “with persecutions”. What?! They were going to receive all these good things, but they will receive persecutions too? Yes. Jesus again turns their world upside down with the famous one liner: “The last shall be first and the first last.” This sums up the whole chapter. The things they thought were right: a respectable, common sense understanding of marriage, a respectable understanding of money and goodness–all these things are up ended in favor of a radical, simple, child like trusting relationship with God.