Commentary on Mark 10:17-31
Preaching Series on Stewardship/Generosity (Week 2 of 3)
Week 2: August 26, 2018
Preaching text: Mark 10:17-31, emphasis on grief, treasure in heaven
Accompanying text: Psalm 51:10-12
There is an old riddle that goes, “What does a rich man lack, that a poor man has in abundance?” The answer is, of course, is “Nothing.” The context of “treasure in heaven” in Mark’s Gospel is not Jesus preaching, but a rich man asking Jesus a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ initial answer is relational, pointing the rich man to the commandments that are meant to order human life together — the “second table.” When the man says that he has kept all of these commandments since his youth, Jesus doesn’t challenge that claim (which in and of itself is striking!), but then identifies the one thing that the rich man does, indeed, lack, the state of having nothing. “Go, sell everything, and give it to the poor.”
This takes the commandments to another level, emphasizing not just what we shouldn’t do to one another, but stressing provision for the poor and the needy.
What stands in the way of this kind of generosity? “Grief,” we are told. The man departs Jesus, “grieving, for he had many possessions.” As is often noted, we don’t know exactly what happens with the rich man after this exchange; does he go and sell what he has and follow Jesus, or does he stop following Jesus and go to his tend his possessions? The text does not say. I want to suggest that this is intentional, leaving the tension for the reader to wrestle with herself. And at the core of that wrestling, is the problem of “grief,” of emotional investment is things, in stuff, in wealth.
Note that here, as in the story of the “widows mite” (Mark 12:41-44), stewardship is set up not as a tithe, or a tenth or a portion, but as an all or nothing proposition. Treasure in heaven, comes from being utterly selfless.
“Grief” over parting with our wealth, it seems, separates us both God, and from our neighbor. We are called away from grief, into a different way of seeing our possessions, our world, and our neighbors.
Psalm 51, again, offers a helpful prayer that reorients us at this point. In verses 10-12, the psalmist prays for a “clean heart.” This clean heart is yoked to three types of spirit, a “right,” “holy,” and “willing” spirit. It would seem that a right spirit comes through the power of God’s holy spirit and enables or sustains a “willing” spirit. That word willing is helpful. In Hebrew the word is nüdîbâ, which is related to the nobility — it is elsewhere translated as “nobles” or “princes” (see Psalm 146:3). This word is also the root concept of “generosity” in Hebrew. In other words, the willing spirit is a generous one, one that is inclined toward others out of its “wealth.”
Willingness in our “clean hearts” and “right spirits” is the key to a free and generous stewardship — where we serve God, and our money is properly an agent of that service.