We’ve become accustomed to read the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22) who Jesus commands to sell all his possessions as a kind of cautionary tale. The rich man, upon hearing Jesus’s demands, departs, unwilling to heed the call, caring more about his riches than about the life Jesus offers him.
Now, there is no way to be certain that I can see from the text, but I get no sense that we should automatically assume that this man rejected Jesus’s call. If he had rejected Jesus’s command, one would expect him to go away scoffing, not grieving (10:22). If he had rejected Jesus’s teaching there would be no reason for him to be sorrowful, and yet the text tells us that he departed in great distress.
Add to that that the whole point of the story, according to Jesus, is the hardness of discipleship and the corresponding abundance of God’s power in the face of this hardness. The response of the disciples to Jesus’s statement is the wondering, “Who then can be saved?” And yet this distressed wondering is addressed with the assurance that “for God all things are possible.”
The stress in the text, then, is on the genuine renunciation, the very real dispossession that is required in following Jesus, coupled with the assurance that God’s abundant power can indeed bring even the most compromised of us onto this liberating and life-giving path. Indeed, in reading this text we might do best to see ourselves in the shoes of this rich man. Like him, the task before us is often the journey home, into the depths of our own power and security so that we may renounce it for the sake of the life set before us.