Jesus was teaching in the region of Judea as the Pharisees were looking for an opportunity to trap Jesus. They knew about Jesus’ closeness with John the Baptist, who was killed for speaking out against the extramarital affairs of king Herod. They wanted to use this opportunity to try and get Jesus to speak against divorce and bear the wrath of Herod or speak in favour of divorce and get shunned by the Jewish community for going against John. So they came and asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus knew the trap that was being set and asked the Pharisees,
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.Mark 10:3-4 (NIV)
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
Rather than taking Moses’ side, Jesus instead rebuked them for asking the question. He said that it was because of their hardened hearts that Moses had given them that law, as the purpose of God when he created man and woman, was for them to be united forever. Now the Pharisees were trapped as they could not speak against their hero Moses but knew that the concessional law that Moses gave them was not according to the plan of God. Although Jesus (and later Paul in his letter to the Corinthians) gave exemptions when it came to adultery and marital abuse, God’s plan was always for man and woman to be united as one. United, not for seeking their desires and pleasures, but to help each other accomplish the will of God. That was the purpose behind the first marriage, and it is the same even today. Barring that purpose, if we marry someone and call it holy matrimony, it is just an empty tradition in the sight of God.
God Over Worldly Opportunities
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.Mark 10:13 (NIV)
Jesus was angry at His disciples for stopping the little ones from approaching Him as it showed that they had not understood the purpose of His ministry. Only a short while later, when it was a rich man who ran up to Jesus, the disciples did not stop him from approaching. Because we judge people according to the standards of this world, we cannot understand God’s heart in welcoming everyone. Jesus made no such distinctions as He blessed the little ones and welcomed the rich man into His fold. He wanted His disciples to not be opportunistic like the people of the world, but humble like little children, as the Kingdom of God belongs to the meek.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Mark 10:17 (NIV)
Jesus asked the man if he had been following the ten commandments, to which he promptly replied that he had been following them since his childhood. When we are little children, we might not understand the purpose behind the commandments but as we grow up, God gives us insight into what it means to keep His commands. Even though he was an adult now, the rich man still followed those commandments like a little boy. Jesus looked at him and gave him one more commandment that he could not follow. Jesus asked the man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and only then he could follow Him. At this, the man went away sad, because he had great wealth.
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”Mark 10:24-25 (NIV)
The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ statement. Did this mean that those who desired wealth are not desiring in the Kingdom of God? They asked Jesus, then who can be saved as they could relate to the plight of the rich man not being able to give up his wealth. Peter even wanted Jesus to acknowledge how they all had left their families to follow him. This is where we all fail. We think that answering Jesus’ call is up to us, that we can easily leave everything and follow him. Nothing is possible by us, as we are always led by our evil desires. Not only are we not worthy of God’s grace on us, we are not even worthy to accept that grace if it was not for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”Mark 10:27 (NIV)
Indeed when we depend on our own strength, nothing is possible for us, not even accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. But it is God who gives us the strength to face each day holding on to our faith. The disciples thought that their commitment to Jesus would be credited to them but it was because Jesus was strengthening them day by day that they were able to follow through on their commitment. Jesus once again reminded the disciples of His impending death and resurrection and gave more details about the incidents of that day.
Rather than paying attention to those details that they would later ignore, James and John instead went up to Jesus to try and secure their place in heaven, once the events unfolded. On hearing Jesus speak about the resurrection, they knew that the day of the Lord was coming closer but did not realize the pain and suffering that was waiting for them on that path. The opportunistic brothers wanted Jesus to grant them their wish of ruling with Him in heaven. This is what they understood when Jesus said that the first would become last and the last would become first. As disciples of Jesus, they did not want to lose their first-mover advantage.
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.Mark 10:41 (NIV)
The disciples were still struggling to understand what Jesus was offering and thought of themselves as Moses taking part in a new exodus. They wanted to be recognized for the sacrifices that they had made and also the assurance of a place next to Jesus’ throne. Their hearts were not transformed as they held to the Jewish laws and customs. It was only after His death that they had realized that everything Jesus had been teaching them, pointed to another kingdom and not how they had been expecting to rule in.
Bartimaeus Seizes His Opportunity
On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples were passing by the ancient city of Jericho, where they met with a blind man named Bartimaeus. He was sitting by the roadside begging when he heard the commotion and realized who was passing through his town.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”Mark 10:47 (NIV)
The disciples who had formed an entourage around Jesus seemed to always let the temple leaders and the government officials through but the meek like this lowly beggar was promptly stopped by them from coming closer to Jesus. Jesus saw the man’s desperation and called him forward.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.Mark 10:51-52 (NIV)
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”
Jesus simply responded by saying, “Go, your faith has healed you”, and immediately the blind man received his sight. Just a few minutes before this man was sitting by the roadside begging and now his life had been turned upside down. He had the ability to see again and could have found meaningful employment and easily sustained his life from hereon. He must have also been eager to see his loved ones and show them what Jesus had done in his life. But his decision was amazing and something that Jesus had just been teaching the disciples. From that moment on, he started following Jesus on the same road to Jerusalem.
There is a vast difference in the attitude of the rich man and the blind beggar. The rich man believed that he had earned his status in the society, because of the wealth he had accumulated and his ticket to heaven, because of his strict adherence to the laws since his childhood. The blind beggar, on the other hand, did not have a penny to his name and had nothing pressing waiting for him in his life. In the end, it was not their desires that acted as a barrier or an opening to follow Jesus but the will of God, which one of them gladly accepted while the other stood looking back at everything he had to forgo. The blind man seized his opportunity as this was the last time Jesus passed by his road, on the way to the cross at Jerusalem.
- What is God’s purpose for the institution of marriage?
- Are we coming to Jesus for an opportunity in our lives or simply to know Him?
- Why are the disciples biased against the downtrodden? Do we have a similar attitude towards the less fortunate in our community?
- What is the difference between the rich man and the blind beggar?