Monday, January 12, 2009

Failed Interpretations: Rich Young Ruler

It's 2009 and I've been hard at work on new bumpers and shows for the new year. I decided to take a break and elaborate on common misinterpretation of a scripture passage that I will touch upon in Episode 5. It's the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10 (among other places).
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" - Mark 10:17
So we have a guy who runs up to Jesus, appearing humble, and asks Him what he must do to obtain salvation. So far, so good.
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: 'You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.'" - Mark 10:18-19
What does Jesus say to his response? (Besides implying that He is God.) He says that one must follow the commandments.
"Teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young." - Mark 10:20
He's spotless so far. (How many of us have actually murdered, committed physical adultery, and so on?) However, Jesus's next response nails him to the wall.
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven't done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Mark 10:21
Jesus points out the "one thing" he hasn't done. And the man can't fulfill Christ's request.
At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. - Mark 10:22
Now at this point, the ICOC/ICC interpretation would be that in everyone's life, there is one thing that they are not doing (or are doing) that will forfeit their salvation (things like possessions, careers, and romantic relationships are often brought up). This is applied not only to the lost hearing the message, but also to the members of the church as well. So everyone starts feeling guilty over their (at least) "one thing" and they are consequently driven to correct it in order to alleviate their guilt and shame. People confess their shortcomings over their "one thing" to their discipler and people become more locked and entrenched into the system.

However, is this a valid interpretation of this passage? The two previous passages in Mark talk about Jesus's interaction with the Pharisees over divorce (Mark 10:1-12) and Jesus welcoming little children to spend time with him (Mark 10:13-16). Common themes in these two passages are humility and utter dependence on God. The Pharisees didn't get it, but the little children did.

Bringing this juxtaposition into the Rich Young Ruler's situation, it didn't appear that we has humble in approaching the Messiah. This well-known man ran up and knelt down in front of Him, in public! Let's look at his question again: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" In light of his pride, he was looking to be justified by his deeds. In his view, it's what he does that earns him salvation. And he wanted to be justified in his self-righteousness before Jesus.

With this in mind, the rest of the passage comes together and makes more sense. Jesus starts stating some of the well-known commandments in order to test him. When the Ruler doesn't budge and entrenches in his pride even further, Christ drops the proverbial hammer. The Ruler wanted to be justified by his works and ultimate perfection of those works, so Jesus feeling "genuine love for him" shows him that there's absolutely no way he could be justified as righteous by his works. None of us can be perfect in our love to God and to others all of the time. That's why we need to become like little children and come to Christ and rely on Him.

We will always be lacking "one thing". The one thing that the Rich Young Ruler was truly lacking was grace. And Christians, who solely rely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for their salvation, aren't lacking in grace or any of the other riches God provides them. My concern, looking at those entrapped in the ICOC and ICC, is will they ever realize this one thing they truly lack?


terry said...

dude, why is there a picture of a muffin?

X-Ray said...

Come on Terry, you know I love failblog.

caprafan said...

That is a really interesting interpretation of this story, and the first one that makes sense to me. Nice job.
The muffin is extra funny to me, since I just made chocolate chip banana muffins yesterday. : )