Jesus looked at the man and loved him. That’s where my focus is this week as I prepare to preach on these lessons. Mark gives us a very different portrayal of the encounter of the man who comes to Jesus asking what he needs to do to get into heaven. In Matthew and Luke’s account, it seems like the man might be trying to justify himself—as if the “rich young ruler” were there to confirm for himself that he was already heaven-bound. But Mark doesn’t let us off so easily. He lets us know that Jesus loved him.
After Jesus rattles off the commandments of how to live in community with others (do not steal, kill, bear false witness, etc.), the man responds, “Teacher, all of these I have kept since my youth.” Then, Jesus looked at him and loved him. I feel pity in that love. I feel hope and desire and selfless concern from Jesus for that man. Mark’s little addition changes the way I encounter that man because he lets me know that Jesus looked at him not as my cynicism might behold him but as only God could see him.
Here is a man who genuinely, honestly, plainly wants to know what he has to do to get into heaven. He’s heard that Jesus knows a lot about God and about his kingdom, so he comes to him and asks for help. Jesus gives him the short and obvious answer—keep the commandments—and them man says, “Yes, I’ve done all that. What else? Am I missing something? I want to be sure.” And Jesus looked at him and loved him. And it is because of that love that he says, “Go and sell everything that you have.”
Jesus knew what was keeping this man out of heaven, and he also knew that there was nothing the man could do about it. As the man’s heart breaks, so does Jesus’. What must I do? You must give everything away. But that is too much. How can I do that? I know it is too much, but that is what you must do. I want more than anything to get into heaven. But you still don’t want it enough.
Jesus looks at us and has pity. When he looks at us, he loves us, too. And we ask him, “What must we do to get into heaven?” And, when we ask, what is his reply? Is it to sell everything? Is it to give up our lives? Is it to pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet? How will the extravagant cost of discipleship be demanded of us? What will we be asked to pay? Whatever it is, it is too costly. We may want eternal life more than anything else, but we still do not want it enough.
Who then can be saved? With us, it is impossible, but with God—even that is possible.