Hello! I'm a Church of England ordinand preparing a sermon on Mark 10:17-31 - and I want to ask you what you make of v.21, "Jesus loved him". I realise that this is the only time in the synoptic gospels that we have a mention of Jesus loving anybody - so it strikes me as significant. But what more to say about it, I don't know. Many thanks in advance!
In The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Lawrence M Wills suggests that it may mean simply that Jesus wished for his good. I would agree with that statement. According to cultural anthropologists, love means active and practical attachment to one’s family. If that is the case then Jesus is treating the man as family. Jesus is offering him to be part of the fictive, surrogate family constituted by his followers. He was ready to embrace this wealthy member of the ruling class as a family member. That shows Jesus’ acceptance of anybody who would stand for justice and mercy regardless of social status.
The note about Jesus loving the rich young man is a detail that is missing from the version of this story in Matthew and Luke, which makes it interesting. While Jesus teaches that we are to love our neighbor, love God, love ourselves, and even love our enemies, it’s true that we don’t see it often attached to Jesus loving particular individuals.
My take is that the inclusion of that phrase in Mark clears up any questions Matthew and Luke’s accounts might raise about Jesus’ response to the young man. We are told by all three accounts that the young man is sad that he can’t do as Jesus’ asked, but Matthew and Luke leave us wondering how Jesus felt about the whole encounter. Was Jesus’ going for a gotcha moment to prove the man wasn’t sincere in wanting to follow Jesus? Was Jesus mad and out to make an example of him? Was he just looking for a teaching moment about the idolatry of material possessions?I don’t think so.
Jesus saw the young man’s struggle and loved him, even in the midst of his failure. The disciples speak to Jesus afterwards saying in essence, “Hey, we’ve given up everything to follow you. Doesn’t that count for something?” Their response strikes me as very like the elder brother in the Prodigal Son parable. Jesus affirms that, yes, they will have their reward. He loves them all—the ones who are able to follow his call as well as the ones who are not.
To be sure, the point about the power of wealth is made loud and clear. It has such a hold on us that beating it is harder than getting a camel through the eye of a needle. But when we fail at that hard calling, as the rich young ruler did, we aren’t scolded or humiliated or chastised. We are sad and Jesus is watching our struggle with the loving hope that there will come a day that we’ll be able to clear the hurdle and come home.
Rev. Anne Robertson, Executive Director, Massachusetts Bible Society
I agree with you that this small detail makes a significant contribution to the story. If nothing else, it makes it clear that Jesus is not trying to make an example of the rich man, destroy him, or punish him. Their exchange appears to be sincere, without trickery or bad faith. Jesus is trying to help him. This doesn't make this notorious passage much easier, for Jesus is asking the man to redistribute his wealth and also to surrender power and advantages. He is asking the man to walk into a situation of utter vulnerability and dependence. No wonder the disciples freak out at the end of the scene. But at least we know Jesus' motivation for such a costly discipleship.