Mark 10: 17-30
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.
The mention of Jesus going back on the road may seem trivial, but it has great symbolic value. Jesus' entire ministry was a long road where he went from village to village. Unlike some of the great spiritual men who isolated themselves and to whom people went to hear a word of wisdom, Jesus went to the people, he travelled the roads of Palestine. And he asked his disciples to do the same (Mk 6:8). For it is on the road that Jesus will have encounters (for example, he meets the blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road, Mk 10:46), it is on the road that he asks his disciples to express their faith in him. When one will want to describe the reality of Christians who call themselves disciples of Jesus, he will speak of the followers of the Way (Acts 9:2; 18:25): the Christian faith is a way of seeing things and a way of doing things, and therefore a direction in a journey in this world.
|Noun hodos dans in the Gospels-Acts|
|prosdramōn (having run up)||
Prostrechō means: to run to, to rush to. In the Gospels, Mark (Mt = 0; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0) is the only one to use this word, here, and in the previous scene (9:15) where the crowd runs to Jesus after the Transfiguration scene. The only other use in the entire New Testament is in the scene where Philip runs to join the eunuch in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah in Acts (8:30). The verb describes the intensity of an action, the deep desire to reach a person. Our anonymous person is stretched with all his being towards Jesus, and his quest is urgent.
The word heis (one) is a numeral adjective used here as a noun and could be translated literally: a person. Mark means an undefined person, a person of some sort. But in doing so, we guess that he is making a generalization: through this man, we must see many people who want to follow Jesus.
|gonypetēsas (having knelt down)||
This is a very rare word (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0) which appears only twice in Mark, here, and in the scene of the leper who begs Jesus by kneeling (1:40), and twice in Matthew, first in the scene of the father of a lunatic child who begs Jesus by kneeling, after the Transfiguration scene (17:14), and then in the scene where the Roman soldiers kneel before Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, in derision. The gesture of kneeling is one of deference to the king or an authority. The kneeling before Jesus by this anonymous man expresses the intensity of his faith in Jesus and the high esteem in which he is held. This scene is reminiscent of another scene where Abraham runs to three messengers of the Lord and prostrates himself before them (LXX: Genesis 18:2):
As he looked up, he saw three men standing over him; and having seen them, he ran (prostrechō) from the door of his tent to meet them, and he bowed (proskyneō) to the ground.We find here the same word prostrechō, and while we speak of prostrating (proskyneō) rather than kneeling (gonypeteō), the same idea emerges of expressing a deep gesture of faith.
The word didaskalos (teacher) is much more frequent (Mt = 12; Mk = 11; Lk = 17; Jn = 8). This seems to be the title usually used to address the historical Jesus: it is in the mouths of the disciples (4:38; 9:38; 10:35; 13:1; 14:14), it is in the mouths of the Pharisees and Sadducees (12:14; 12:19), it is in the mouths of the people who approach him (9:17; 10:17"20). We are far from a Christological title, and therefore we are closer to the historical Jesus.
The word agathos (Mt = 16; Mk = 4; Lk = 16; Jn = 3) is also very rare in Mark and appears only here (three times in our scene) and in Jesus' reply to the Pharisees (3:4) asking them whether it is permissible to do good or evil on the Sabbath. So we are not dealing with a vocabulary familiar to Mark. All this gives the impression that he did not create this text, but draws on a tradition, even if the role he gives it, as we shall see later, bears the sign of his editorial work.
The word zōē (life) is also rare in Mark (Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 6; Jn = 36) and appears in only two passages, here, and in Jesus' discourse on the scandal where it is better to enter life (zōē) one-handed than to go with both hands into Gehenna. In all these cases, the meaning of the word is clear: it refers to life after death, that world or kingdom that God offers to his chosen ones (it should be distinguished from psychē, also translated as life, which refers rather to the person in his conscious life).
Finally, aiōnios (eternal, without beginning) is also very rare in Mark (Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 7; Jn = 10); the only other use is in Jesus' discourse concerning the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit and is guilty of an eternal fault (3:29). And so the expression "life without end" is found only here. We must therefore recognize that we are not dealing with Mark's usual vocabulary, which leads us to suspect that he is borrowing here from a tradition which he has inherited. On the other hand, the meaning of the sentence is very clear: the question concerns that life after death in which a certain Jewish tradition believed, a life offered by God to his chosen ones after the final judgment (in contrast, the expression "eternal life" is very frequent in John, but for the latter, life after death has already begun for the believer). This question resembles the one we used to find in our little catechism: what must we do to go to Heaven?
|Expression zōē aiōnios in the Gospels-Acts|
|klēronomēsō (I might inherit)||
Once again, we are faced with very rare words in Mark. The word klēronomeō (receive as an inheritance, inherit) appears only here (Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0). In Mt and Lk it is also found in the parallel passages to this scene as well as in similar contexts, i.e. it is about the inheritance of eternal life (Mk 10: 17; Lk 10: 25; 18: 18; Mt 19: 29) or the kingdom (Mt 25: 34). The only exception is the proclamation of the beatitudes where the meek shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:4).
|v. 18 But Jesus answered him, "Why do you say that I am good? Nobody is good, if only God.
Literally: Then the Jesus said to him, "Why to you call me good (agathon)? No one [is] good (agathos) if not one the God.
This verse is surprising in more ways than one. First of all, the idea developed here appears like a meteorite out of nowhere: one will search in vain throughout the New Testament for a similar discussion comparing the goodness of God and the goodness of men. Jesus' questioning and his answer will never come up again: it is a completely isolated theme. Moreover, it is hard to understand why Mark insisted on keeping this verse, which not only plays no role in the rest of the narrative, but also distances Jesus from God, since he cannot be called good like God. Matthew saw this last point well and transformed the man's question, "Teacher, what good (agathos) must I do to obtain eternal life?". What to conclude? If such a verse does not serve Mark's catechetical purpose at all, it could not have been created by him and probably comes from his source. If it is an echo of the historical Jesus, it shows us his view of God's transcendence and of human dependence, including his own, on God to produce good acts.
When we analyze the use of agathos throughout the gospels, with the exception of our passage and its parallels, we can group them into four broad categories:
This brief analysis only underlines the anomaly of our verse which forbids Jesus to be called good, and supports the idea that it is not a creation of Mark the evangelist.
|v. 19 You know the commandments: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not commit fraud, treat your father and your mother with honor".
Literally: The commandments (entolas) you know: you should not murder, you should not commit adultery, you should not steal, you should not bear false witness, you should not defraud, honor your father and mother."
The word entolē (command, commandment, precept) is infrequent in the Synoptics (Mt = 6; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 10). In Mark, it refers primarily to requests or demands from God, the exception being a prescription established by Moses marking out divorce procedures (10:4). But these demands are not limited to the so-called ten words of Yahweh at Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). Of course, the six requirements in our verse refer to them, as does Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees and scribes for nullifying the requirement to honor one's father and mother with their tradition of the korban (7:8-9). But in his discussion with the lawyer about the greatest commandment (12: 28-31), Jesus refers to the traditional Jewish prayer, called Shema', which is an amalgam of Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; 11: 13-21; Numbers 15: 37-41 (to speak of the commandment to love God), and then to Leviticus 19: 18 (to speak of the commandment to love one's neighbor). Thus, the entire first five books of the Bible or Pentateuch represent the Law or commandments of God, so that the Talmud (tractate Makot 23b) teaches us that there are 613 commandments in the Torah; 248 positive commandments ("do") and 365 negative commandments ("do not").
The observant mind will have noticed that the only real difference between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions concerns the requirement of the Sabbath: Exodus speaks of remembering the Sabbath day, while Deuteronomy speaks of keeping the Sabbath day. Jewish tradition has resolved this difficulty by stating that the words were spoken at the same time by God. Of the ten words, seven are negative (do not...), and three are positive (I am your God, keep the Sabbath, honor your father and mother).
The Jesus of Mark retained six commandments among these ten, beginning with the negative ones and ending with a positive one. Which ones, then, did he leave out of the list presented to the man who wants to know the way to inherit life? The first four: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods, You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, Observe the sabbath. Why is this so? One can speculate that the first four were interwoven into the culture and that it was unthinkable that they would not be observed. And so Jesus only focuses on what is not guaranteed in 1st century Judaism. At the same time, one could add this: there is nothing in the six commandments retained by Mark's Jesus that is not universal, i.e. applicable to Gentiles or anyone else, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. In other words, the four commandments that the Jesus of Mark dropped are typically Jewish.
A word about the Little Catechism of Quebec. We note a cultural adaptation. First of all, the evocation of the going out of Egypt is unnecessary and forgotten. The Sabbath which began on Friday evening, at sunset, and ended on Saturday evening, at sunset, becomes Sunday. The commandment on adultery becomes a commandment on modesty, which covers a lot more (according to the dictionary: "Feeling of shame, of embarrassment that a person feels in doing, in contemplating things of a sexual nature; embarrassment that a delicate person feels in front of what dignity seems to forbid). The commandment on false witness is extended to cover lying as well. As the tenth commandment of the Bible covers the coveting of both goods and the wife of the neighbor (the woman being seen as a possession of the man in the same way as his ox and his ass), the Little Catechism separates the two aspects: the coveting of the woman becomes a commandment on the prohibition of sexual relations outside marriage, while the coveting of all other goods becomes the desire to appropriate them in an unjust manner. One can speak of an actualization, but at the same time of a revelation of cultural traits, such as this emphasis on the rules concerning sexuality.
|v. 20 But he said to Jesus, "Master, all this I have kept from my youth.
Literally: Then, him he was declaring (ephē) to him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept (ephylaxamēn) from my youth (neotētos)."
|ephē (he was declaring)||
Two points to note. First, we have a verb in the past continuous tense, which signifies an ongoing, unfinished action. The narrative suggests, therefore, that as Jesus lists the commandments, for each one the man signifies to him that he has always kept it. Second, the very fact that Jesus needs to list commandments suggests that he really does not know this man.
|ephylaxamēn (I have kept)||
This is the only time we have the word phylassō (to guard someone, watch, stand guard, defend, protect, guard, observe) in Mark (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 3). This is yet another indication of a vocabulary unfamiliar to Mark and points us to a source from which he draws.
|Verb phylassō in the New Testament|
The word neotēs (youth) is quite unique in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0), as Luke merely repeats the text of Mark.
|v. 21 Then Jesus, having set his eyes on him, began to love him and said to him: "One thing is missing, go, sell all these things that you possess, give them to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven, come here and follow me".
Literally: Then, the Jesus having looked at (emblepsas) him, loved (ēgapēsen) him and said to him, "On thing is lacking (hysterei) to you, go (hypage), as much as you have sell (pōlēson) and give (dos) to the poors (ptōchois) and you will have treasure (thēsauron) in heaven and come (deuro), follow (akolouthei) me."
|emblepsas (having looked at)||
The word emblepō (to look at, to stare at) is very infrequent in the gospels (Mt = 2; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 2). It would be wrong to think that it is a word peculiar to Mark when we see that he is the one who uses it the most. First of all, two of the four uses are in our story. The other two uses, where it is no longer a behavior from Jesus, come from the account of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida who begins to see clearly (emblepō, 8:25), and which is thought to come from an early source (see Meier), and of the passion narrative as one of the high priest's maids stares at (emblepō, 14: 67) Peter, who is trying to remain incognito; in the latter case, Mark is probably borrowing from an earlier source, and there is no indication of editorial work. In Matthew, a similar observation can be made: apart from this passage, which he borrows from our account (Mt 19:26), the only other reference to emblepō comes from the so-called Q Document (Mt 6:26). Only Luke and John give the impression of drawing from their own vocabulary, the words occurring in passages that show editorial work (Lk 20:17; 22:61; Jn 1:36.42). Whatever the origin of the word in our story, its meaning is clear: the staring at the man is intended to express a form of choice or election, as in the case of a disciple.
|ēgapēsen (he loved)||
Of all the evangelists, Mark speaks least of love, either through the word agapaō (Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 13; Jn = 37), or through the word phileō (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 13). We should even add: our passage is the only one in all the synoptic gospels where Jesus is mentioned as loving (see Glossary). The other four references to love in Mark concern love of God and love of neighbor (12:30-33). Again, we don't have a particular vocabulary of Mark's here, and we still have to acknowledge that he is probably drawing from a source. What this source says is that Jesus has taken a liking to the anonymous man and wants him to become his disciple.
|hysterei (it is lacking)||
The word hystereō is very rare (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 1) and appears only in this one passage in Mark, echoed by Matthew. Other than noting that it does not come from Mark's usual vocabulary, can we say anything else? Earlier, Jesus presented the elements of a universal ethic that opens the door to the kingdom of God. Suddenly we are surprised to hear that this universal ethic is not complete. What does that mean? For the moment, we can only say that this lack concerns only this individual. For the phrase "one thing you lack" comes only after Jesus has looked at him and loved him.
|Verb hystereō in the Gospels-Acts|
The verb is here in the imperative tense and is thus found eight times in Mark. Each time, it appears in the mouth of Jesus and, with the exception of a reproach to Peter, it always follows a gesture of healing, as Jesus invites his interlocutor to follow up on what he has just experienced.
Thus, the challenge of Jesus is to follow up on the fact that he has chosen and loved him. This choice costs something, because the man must change his life to live accordingly.
Again, this is a word Mark rarely uses (Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 6; Jn = 2). The only other use is in the scene of the sellers in the temple (11:15). And this is the only example in the entire New Testament where the verb is in the imperative in Jesus' mouth: sell (Lk 18:22 and Mt 19:21 only echo Mark), with the exception of Luke of 12:33 (Sell your possessions, and give them in alms. Make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where neither thief approaches nor moth destroys) where we find a theme dear to Luke. We do not have here a typical Markan catechesis.
The verb didōmi in the imperative is very rare in Mark (Mt = 10; Mk = 3; Lk =11; Jn = 5). And there are only two instances where it comes out of Jesus' mouth, here, and in the scene of the feeding of the crowd (6:37: He answered them (disciples), "Give them (didōmi) yourselves to eat." ). The idea of giving to the poor is more of a theme in Luke (Lk 6:30: To everyone who asks of you, give (didōmi), and from whomsoever you take away your good do not ask for it; Lk 6:38: Give (didōmi), and it shall be given to you; a good measure, packed, shaken, overflowing, shall be poured into your bosom; for of the measure with which you measure it shall be measured to you in return; Lk 11:41: Give (didōmi) rather in alms what you have, and then all will be pure for you; Lk 12:33: "Sell your possessions, and give (didōmi) them in alms. Make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where neither thief approaches nor moth destroys).
Although Mark uses the word ptōchos (beggar, poor) five times (Mt = 5; Mk = 5; Lk =10; Jn = 4), it is never to invite his disciples to care for the poor (Mk 12:42-43: Jesus simply values the gesture of a poor widow; Mk 14:5-7: people are indignant about the perfume poured on Jesus whose money could have been given to the poor, but Jesus responds that there will always be poor people, and that he will not always be there). In our scene, Jesus does not explicitly invite to take care of the poor, but asks the man to free himself from his possessions in order to follow him.
|Adjective ptōchos in the Gospels-Acts|
The word thēsauron (Mt = 9; Mk = 1; Lk =4; Jn = 0) (treasure, chest, precious, valuable object, sum of money) appears only here.
|Noun thēsauros in the Gospels-Acts|
The same must be said of deuro (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk =1; Jn = 1) (here, so far); Matthew and Luke merely repeat Mark's narrative expression.
Only the verb akoloutheō (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk =17; Jn = 19) (to follow someone, to be a disciple of) appears regularly in his gospel. Here, the verb is in the imperative, and in all the gospels, when this verb is in the imperative and has Jesus as its direct object complement, it always designates a call to become disciples (Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk =4; Jn = 4):
I have made a point of presenting this long list of fifteen references where Jesus practically commands people to follow him. This authoritative tone is present throughout the gospel tradition, whether it is the tradition from Mark (2: 14 || Mt 9: 9 || Lk 5: 27; 8: 34 || Mt 16: 24 || Lk 9: 23; 10: 21 || Mt 19: 21 || Lk 18: 22), either that from the Q Document (Mt 8: 22 || Lk 9: 60), and either that from the Johannine tradition (1: 43; 21: 19. 22). This broad consensus most likely gives us an echo of the historical Jesus and emphasizes the urgency of the mission he proposes. All of this gives us an image of strength that distances us from the mawkish image of the figure of Jesus that some Christian iconography proposes.
In conclusion, we could ask the question: why must a man strip himself in order to be a disciple of Jesus? Our story does not give an explanation. Doesn't it say that riches are bad in themselves? A clue is given to us by the fact that being a disciple consists in walking after him, in moving constantly, and therefore in traveling light (Mk 6:8-9: he commanded them to take nothing for the road but a staff only, no bread, no bag, no small change for a belt... not two tunics). Another clue is given to us by the parable of the seed in the ground (Mk 4:19: the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of wealth, and other lusts penetrate them and choke the Word, which remains without fruit): attachment to Jesus must be undivided and whole.
|v. 22 But the latter, become sad at these words, went away all unhappy. Because he owned a lot of goods.
Literally: Then, having been sad (stygnasas) upon the word (epi tō logō), he went away grieving (lypoumenos); for he was having many possessions (ktēmata).
|stygnasas (having been sad)||
The verb stygnazō (to be sad, to become sad) is extremely rare in the entire Bible (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk =0; Jn = 0). In the New Testament, the only other presence is in Matthew (13:3: and at dawn: Bad weather today, for the sky becomes red in darkening (stygnazō). Thus, the face of the sky you know how to interpret, and for the signs of the times you are not able! ). In the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is found only in Ezekiel on the occasion of three laments of Yahweh, first on Tyre, a people of sailors, then on Egypt:
If the passages in Ezekiel are indicative of the meaning of this verb, we cannot speak of a sweet sorrow, for the verb is closer to affliction and groaning. We are closer to upset and stupor. In any case, this vocabulary is not Marcan and points to a tradition which he inherits.
|epi tō logō (upon the word)||
The same is true of the expression (epi tō logō), literally: upon the word (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk =0; Jn = 0; Acts = 1), which is the only example from Mark here, and is used elsewhere only by Luke (Lk 1:29; Acts 20:38). A few verses later, we will have the same expression, but in the plural this time (epi tois logois): upon the words (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk =1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) that only Luke (4:22) knows elsewhere.
The verb lypeō (grieve, afflict, sadden, be saddened, be sad), used here in the present passive participle tense (literally: being grieved), is another very rare word (Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk =0; Jn = 1) in Mark; the only other presence is at the last supper when the disciples hear from Jesus that one of them will betray them (Mark 14:19: They became all sad (lypeō) and began to say to him one after another, "Could it be me?"). It is easy to imagine that it was part of the original story that Mark took up as is. The point is: the fact that he cannot follow Jesus distresses him to the utmost and becomes a catastrophe for him.
The word ktēma (possession, to have) appears only here in the gospels (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk =0; Jn = 0; Acts = 2), Matthew merely repeating Mark's account. Only Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, uses it to tell that the first Christians sold their possessions (2:45) and to tell the story of Ananias and Sapphira who sold their property (5:1), but embezzled part of the price. If we trust Luke, we can imagine that we are dealing with a vocabulary known to the first Christian communities.
With this verse the story of the rich man who wants to follow Jesus ends, since thereafter Jesus begins a dialogue with his disciples about wealth. After examining the vocabulary of this story, we can conclude with a high degree of probability that Mark did not invent this story from scratch, but received it from a tradition, for several reasons: 1) we are dealing with words that are not part of his familiar vocabulary; 2) the story does not, in itself, belong to his major catechetical themes, such as suffering or the messianic secret. Historically, it is likely that Jesus was rejected in his calls to follow him. In the story, there is a great tension between the beginning when a man expresses such a great desire for the eternal life offered by God (he runs to Jesus, he kneels down), and the end when he is distressed and stunned at not being able to go all the way.
|v. 23 And turning to look at his disciples, Jesus said to them, "How difficult it will be for those who possess property to enter into the domain of God".
Literally: And having looked around (periblepsamenos) the Jesus says to his disciples, "How difficultly (dyskolōs) those having riches (chrēmata) will enter (eiseleusontai) into the kingdom of God (tēn basileian tou theou)."
|periblepsamenos (having looked around)||
The atmosphere changes as we fall into a dialogue between Jesus with his disciples. And the first verb in this new narrative, periblepō (look around, consider), formed from two words, peri (around, as in peripheral), blepō (to look) is a thoroughly Marcan word (Mt = 0; Mk = 5; Lk =1; Jn = 1), for he is the only one to use it, Luke (6:10) merely repeating one of his accounts. The action of looking around is meant to express the attention given to each person before saying something important (see 3:5 where Jesus looks around at the scribes and Pharisees, sorry for the hardness of their hearts, and 3:34 where Jesus looks around at his audience to say who his mother and brothers really are), or, when it comes to things, it means attention to detail (see 9:8 where Peter, James and John scan the surrondings to try to find Moses and Elijah at the end of the scene of Jesus' transfiguration, and 11:11 where Jesus examines the temple to come back the next day to knock down the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of the dove traders). We should therefore expect an important word here.
With the word dyskolōs (difficultly, arduously), we return to a rare word (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk =1; Jn = 0) that is found only in Mark in the entire Bible, Matthew and Luke merely retelling Mark's account. One can imagine that it was part of the original story.
The same is true of chrēma (goods, having, wealth, money) which, apart from this passage taken up by Luke, appears only in Acts (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk =1; Jn = 0; Acts = 4). This sentence was to be the conclusion of the original story.
|eis tēn basileian tou theou eiseleusontai (they will enter into the kingdom of God)||
Of course, the verb eiserchomai (to enter, penetrate) is a very frequent word (Mt = 33; Mk = 30; Lk =50; Jn = 15). In Mark, Jesus enters the synagogue, the house, the temple, a city. But the question that must be asked is this: is the expression "entering the kingdom of God" present elsewhere in Mark's gospel? The answer is: yes. First, there is the set of words of Jesus around the scandal: it is better to enter the kingdom of God or life one-handed or crippled or one-eyed, than with all one's limbs intact (see 9:43.45.47). Then there is the passage where Jesus warns his audience that whoever does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will not enter it (10:15). This last verse acts as a kind of introduction to our story. So we must admit that we have here a Marcan expression.
In this verse we have a mixture of words familiar to Mark and rare words that seem to come from the original story. We must admit that Mark has slightly modified the conclusion of the original story to put a personal touch to it, which allows it to be integrated into the whole of his gospel.
|v. 24 And hearing these words, the disciples were astonished. But Jesus spoke again to say to them, "My children, how difficult it is to enter the domain of God.
Literally: Then, the disciples were astonished (ethambounto) upon his words. Then, the Jesus answering again he says to them, "Children (tekna), how difficult it is to enter into the kingdom of God those who had trusted upon the riches.
|ethambounto (they were astonished)||
The verb thambeō (to strike with awe, to be seized with fear, to be astonished), though infrequent, appears quite Marcan (Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk =0; Jn = 0). We first encounter it in the scene where Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit on the Sabbath at the synagogue in Capernaum and the people were all amazed (thambeō), so that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching, given with authority! Even to unclean spirits he commands and they obey him!" (1: 27). Mark also uses it at the moment when the disciples go up to Jerusalem behind Jesus, and they are stunned (thambeō) and frightened, as Jesus is about to announce what awaits him (10: 32). The verb, therefore, reflects the fact that the disciples are taken aback, unsettled, and even afraid before the vision of life that Jesus presents to them.
This verse essentially repeats what Jesus has already said, which our analysis has revealed to contain a mixture of Marcan words and words presumably from the source he uses. The only new element is the word teknon (child, son, or daughter), here in the vocative plural, so literally "children!" which we have rendered as "my children" to express the call out. The word teknon is very frequent (Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk =14; Jn = 0). Children are present in the gospels, especially in Mark. But what we want to know is, does Mark present us elsewhere with a call out of someone, especially an adult, with the word "child"? Yes, we have that in this scene in Capernaum where a paralytic is brought to Jesus through the roof, and to whom Jesus says, "My child (teknon), your sins are forgiven" (2:5). In short, we must conclude that the word is part of Mark's usual vocabulary. It probably conveys a feeling of tenderness and affection, like a master towards his disciples.
|Noun teknon in the New Testament|
|v. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the domain of God".
Literally: It is easier (eukopōteron) a camel (kamēlon) to go through (dielthein) the eye of the needle ([tēs] trymalias [tēs] rhaphidos) than a rich man (plousion) to enter into the kingdom of God."
|eukopōteron (it is easier)||
The adjective eukopos (easy to do), is always used as a comparative (easier than) in the gospels (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk =3; Jn = 0). It is Mark who seems to introduce it in the gospels, here in our story and earlier in the scene of healing a paralytic (Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Get up, take up your bed and walk? , 2:9) that Matthew and Luke pick up on. Only Luke uses this comparative adjective in another context: It is easier for heaven and earth to pass than for one small line of the Law to be dropped, 16: 17).
We encounter kamēlos infrequently in the gospels (Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk =1; Jn = 0). Mark introduced it with the mention of John the Baptist's clothing, made of camel skin (1:6), before referring to it as a means of transportation in the image of our scene. Matthew takes up these two references (3:4; 19:24) and adds a third in Jesus' invective to the scribes and Pharisees (Blind guides, who stop the mosquito in the filter and swallow the camel, 23:24). As for Luke, he only takes up Mark's scene about the rich man (18: 25).
|[tēs] trymalias [tēs] rhaphidos (the eye of the needle)||
The words trymalia (eye, chasm, crevice of rock) (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk =0; Jn = 0) and rhaphis (needle, spike, spur) (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk =0; Jn = 0) are unique to Mark's account, with only Matthew picking up on Mark's rhaphis in the parallel scene. There has been much debate about the meaning of this difficult image. Some have proposed the idea that the needle was a small back door giving access to the city of Jerusalem, and thus required the camel to be unloaded of its load before entering the door, but such a door could never be confirmed. Others turned to the needle of a rocky spur, and thus expressed the difficulty for a camel to fit into this hole in the rock. All these efforts are aimed at correcting the absurdity of the image. But knowing that the camel was considered the biggest animal, and the hole of a needle as the smallest thing, is it not better to accept the image as it is and to see in it a quite oriental way of caricaturing reality and of affirming with a bit of exaggeration the quasi impossibility of a thing?
|dielthein (to go through)||
Dierchomai (to go through, to cross, to pass through the middle, to traverse), while very common in Luke (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 10; Jn = 2 Acts = 20), is very little used in the other evangelists. The two uses in Matthew, for example, come from Mark, in the parallel to our story, and from the Q Document when he speaks of the spirit wandering the dry places in search of rest (12:43). What does this mean? We do not have Mark's familiar vocabulary here, and so we can assume that the whole image comes from an ancient source.
Only Luke uses the word plousios frequently (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk =11; Jn = 0). As we have noted, Mark does not make the issue of wealth a theme of his gospel: the only other use appears when Jesus is in the temple and observes the rich putting money into the temple treasury. On the other hand, we have pointed out that the expression "to enter the domain/kingdom of God" may come from Mark's pen.
|Adjective plousios in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 26 These were extremely flabbergasted saying to each other: "But who can be saved?"
Literally: Then, them they were exceedingly (perissōs) amazed (exeplēssonto) saying to one another, "And who is able to be saved (sōthēnai)?"
|perissōs exeplēssonto (they were exceedingly)||
The words perissōs (excessively, abundantly, violently) (Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0) and ekplēssō (to be struck down, to be astonished) (Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 3; Jn = 0), though infrequent, seem to belong well to Mark's vocabulary. Apart from our account, perissōs appears later in Jesus' trial before Pilate when the crowd shouts with more violence (perissōs) to crucify him, a scene taken up by Matthew 27:23. The same observation can be made for ekplēssō which Mark uses in various scenes:
It will have been noticed that all references to ekplēssō in the gospels outside of Mark can be traced back to one or another passage in Mark, with the exception of a passage in the infancy narrative in Luke when Jesus' parents are upset upon finding their twelve-year-old child in the temple. We are in Mark's world.
|sōthēnai (to be saved)||
The verb sōzō is widespread in the Gospels (Mt = 15; Mk = 15; Lk = 17; Jn = 6). It takes the Hebrew word yasha‛ which means: to save, deliver, rescue. When we look at the fifteen uses of the verb in Mark, we can group them into two broad categories:
Just about all of Mark's scenes were taken up either by Matthew (Mt 9:21; 14:36; 24:22; 27:40,41) or by Luke (Lk 6:9; 18:42), or by both (Mt 9:22 || Lk 8:48; Mt 16:25 || Lk 9:24; Mt 19:25 || Lk 18:26; Mt 10:22 || Mt 24:13). The word sōzō precedes the writing of the gospels.
In John, we move to another level, for life beyond death has already begun. For faith is the acceptance of Jesus' word (5:34), and thus the acceptance of God's initiative, and allows one to escape condemnation (3:17; 12:47) in this immense trial between God and the world. Faith gives access to life without end (10:9).
The disciples' question expresses a great surprise in the context of Judaism where wealth is seen as a sign of God's blessing. It is a reversal of the vision of things. It is enough to destabilize the disciples.
Mark gives us little clue about the problem of riches, except that they can become a prison preventing us from following Jesus on a path where we must walk lightly.
|Verb sōzō in the New Testament|
|v. 27 After staring at them, Jesus said, "For men it is impossible (adynaton), but not for God. Because for God everything is possible".
Literally: Having looked at (emblepsas) them, the Jesus says, "With men (it is) impossible, but not with God; for all things (are) possible (dynata) with God."
|emblepsas (Having looked at)||
We have already analyzed this expression above and concluded that it is not typical of Mark. Jesus had previously set his eyes the man to invite him to follow him, but now he stared at his disciples. Important words will follow.
|adynaton... dynata (impossible... possible)||
This is the only instance of the word adynatos (impotent, weak, impossible) in the gospels (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0), Matthew and Luke merely using the word in their parallel scene. As for dynatos (powerful, capable, possible), it is hardly more frequent (Mt = 3; Mk = 4; Lk = 4; Jn = 0). In Mark, apart from our scene, it occurs in the apocalyptic discourse (13:22), which Mark probably received from tradition, and in Gethsemane (14:35,36) where, according to Raymond E. Brown, Mark put a known Hellenistic Christian prayer formula on Jesus' lips. In short, this whole phrase does not seem to be a creation of Mark. All of Matthew's references (19:26; 24:24; 26:39) to this word are a borrowing from Mark. As for Luke, apart from its parallel to our scene (18:27), it appears in passages of his own (1:49; 14:31; 24:19). One would look in vain in Mark for a development on the conditions for entering the kingdom of God. The passages that refer to this in some way concern the need to accept the kingdom of God as a little child (10: 15), i.e. this kingdom is a gift from God that we can only accept by abandoning ourselves to this gift.
|v. 28 Peter began to say to him, "Behold, we have left everything to follow you."
Literally: He began (Ērxato) to say the Peter to him, "Behold (idou), we, we have left (aphēkamen) all and have followed (ēkolouthēkamen) you."
|Ērxato (he began)||
With archō (to command, to begin, to set about), we fall here into the vocabulary frequently used by Mark (Mt = 13; Mk = 27; Lk = 31; Jn = 2). The verb is used in the past continuous tense tense, signifying a dialogue that continues over time.
|Verbe archō dans le Nouveau Testament|
Mark does not use the expression as much as the others (Mt = 62; Mk = 7; Lk = 57; Jn = 4), but it seems to be part of his vocabulary.
|Expression idou in the Gospels-Acts|
|aphēkamen panta kai ēkolouthēkamen soi (we have left all and have followed you)||
Both terms, aphiēmi (take out, send away, dismiss, leave out, neglect, omit, hand over, let, leave, forsake) (Mt = 48; Mk = 34; Lk = 36; Jn = 15) and akolutheō (follow, to be a disciple of) (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 17; Jn = 19) fall within Mark's colloquial vocabulary.
It is easy to see that Peter's question no longer belongs to the original story. For, as far as we know, the disciples do not belong to the group of the rich and have not sold anything to join Jesus. Noting his usual vocabulary here, we can say that we are dealing with a redactional work in which Mark attaches to the story of the rich man a similar theme, that of the disciple who must leave his world to follow Jesus. And as he does a number of times, Mark makes Peter play the role of representative of the disciples as a whole (it is Peter who expresses the faith of the disciples in Jesus, and at the same time opposes in the name of all of them his destiny of suffering, 8:29-32; it is he who, in the name of James and John, proposes to build three tents to stay at the place of the transfiguration, 9:5; It is he who commits himself never to abandon Jesus in the name of the other disciples, 14: 29; at the same time, Jesus addresses Peter as the representative of the disciples when he reproaches him for refusing his tragic destiny, :, 33; in Gethsemane, it is by addressing him that Jesus reproaches the disciples for sleeping, 14: 37.)
|v. 29 Jesus said, "Truly, I assure you, no one will have left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields because of me and because of the Gospel,
Literally: He was declaring the Jesus, "Amen, I say to you (amēn legō hymin), no one he is who has left house (oikian) or brothers (adelphous) or sisters (adelphas) or mother (mētera) or father (patera) or children (tekna) or lands (agrous) for the sake of (heneken) me and the sake of the gospel (euangeliou)
|amēn legō hymin (Amen, I say to you)||
The word amēn is the transliteration of the Hebrew word: ʾāmēn, which means: it is solid, it is true. It is found frequently in the mouth of Jesus throughout the gospels (Mt = 31; Mk = 13; Lk = 5; Jn = 50). The word lends a certain solemnity to what is asserted. The expression amēn legō hymin (literally, amen I say to you, which we have translated as: truly, I assure you) appears eight times in Mark's pen.
Jesus seems to address above all his disciples, or those who welcome him in faith, to make them discover a dimension of life that is not obvious: there can be no sign for those who do not believe, the kingdom is close at hand and some will soon have access to it, any action to follow Jesus will have its reward, the kingdom is welcomed in the manner of a little child, the gift is not evaluated only by the amount of money, someone close to Jesus will betray him.
|oikian adelphous adelphas mētera patera tekna agrous (house brothers sisters mother father children lands)||
This is plainly Markan vocabulary:
Of course, the terms home, brother, sister, mother, father, child, land are part of everyone's usual vocabulary.
|Nouns oikia and oikos in Mark|
|heneken (for the sake of)||
Note that the expression heneken (for the sake of), with the exception of two verses in Matthew's Beatitudes (5:10-11), is unique to Mark, since in their parallel passages Matthew and Luke only repeat Mark.
Finally, the word eu (good) angelion (news) or gospel is from Mark's pen. His work begins with the phrase: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" 1:1). The gospel becomes a reality in itself, along with the person of Jesus, so that he can speak equivalently of giving one's life for Jesus or for the gospel. Elsewhere in the gospel accounts, only Matthew uses the word euangelion, but not as a reality in itself, but simply as a qualifier for the kingdom (good news of the kingdom, 4:23; 9:35; 24:14); his only use of the word as a reality in itself is a reprise of Mark (Mt 26:13).
Whatever the vocabulary, Mark intends in this verse to name everything that belongs to a person's world, his field and his house, as well as his family. To give it up means: to give up everything.
|v. 30 that he will not receive a hundred more times now as homes, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions, and for the coming period, a life without end."
Literally: if he would not receive (labē) a hundred times (hekatontaplasiona) now in this time (nyn en tō kairō) houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions (diōgmōn), and in the age which is coming (en tō aiōni tō erchomenō) eternal life (zōēn aiōnion)."
|labē (he would receive)||
The word lambanō (to take, to receive, to welcome) is prevalent in all four gospels (Mt = 53; Mk = 20; Lk = 21; Jn = 46).
|Verb lambanō in Mark|
|hekatontaplasiona (hundred times)||
On the other hand, hekatontaplasiōn (multiplied by a hundred, a hundredfold) appears only here, taken up by Matthew (19:29) in the parallel passage, and in Luke (8:8) where he takes up a parallel passage from Mark about the seed in the ground, but prefers hekatontaplasiōn to Mark's hekaton (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0).
|nyn en tō kairō (now in this time)||
Finally, the expression nyn en tō kairō (Literally: now at this time) is unique, although the individual words nyn (now, at present, henceforth) is more common (Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 13; Jn = 28) as well as kairos (time, instant, moment, epoch) (Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 13; Jn = 3). In Mark kairos refers to two types of time: 1) that which God intended with creation and which is about to end with the approach of God's reign, and make way for a new era (The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, 1:15; watch, for you do not know when it will be time/time (the coming of the son of man), 13: 33); 2) that of the seasons of nature (for it was not the season of figs, 11: 13; he sent a servant to the vinedressers when the time was right, 12: 2). The word nyn (now) also has two meanings: 1) the present time that began with creation (For in those days there shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of creation which God created until now, 13: 19); 2) "at once" (Let Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, 15: 32).
What to conclude? The promise of an overflowing reward with expressions like "hundredfold" and "present time" does not seem to me to be part of Mark's familiar vocabulary and could come from an ancient source. Of course, it is impossible to reconstruct the historical words of Jesus, but this promise seems consistent with what we can guess about the one who announced the coming of God's reign, for whom the present time was unique, and who invited people to follow him, with the promise that they would enter a new world.
This is an insertion from Mark. How can we say that? The word diōgmos (pursuit, persecution) is very rare (Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0), appearing only 7 times elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 8:1; 13:50; 2 Thess 1:4; Rom 8:35; 2 Cor 12:10; 2 Tim 3:11), primarily in reference to the persecutions that Paul of Tarsus suffered. But we believe that the word was added here by Mark to the received tradition for the following reasons.
|en tō aiōni tō erchomenō (in the age which is coming)||
The expression en tō aiōni tō erchomenō is unique to Mark and found only here, and which Luke (18:30) picks up in his parallel passage. Yet the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go, to appear) is very common in the gospels (Mt = 113; Mk = 85; Lk = 99; Jn = 156), but it is aiōn (century, epoch, time, era) that is uncommon (Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 7; Jn = 10). In some ways, aiōn is synonymous with kairos. But the emphasis is different. Kairos refers more to the time that the clock refers to and the present moment. Aiōn refers to a larger cycle: there are past centuries, there is the present century, and there is the century of the world to come. In any case, kairos and aiōn form a symmetrical structure, introduced by the preposition en (in, in) in both cases:
- en tō aiōni tō erchomenō (in the age which is coming)
Such a structure with en is unique in the gospels and suggests that it comes from a tradition older than Mark's gospel itself and is not part of Mark's vocabulary.
|zōēn aiōnion (eternal life)||
The expression zōēn aiōnion is prevalent throughout the New Testament (Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk 3; Jn = 17; Acts = 2; Pauline Epistles = 9; 1 Jn = 6; Jude = 1). In Paul, it appeared in his letter to the Galatians: whoever sows in the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh; whoever sows in the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit (6:8). The expression is not the work of the evangelists. It appears in Mark only here, in this account of the man who sought the path to eternal life, and is really not part of his vocabulary. It was John who made it one of the great themes of his gospel, a theme taken up by the Johannine epistles. It is safe to say that the expression goes back to an ancient tradition, and perhaps even to Jesus himself. Yet Jesus did not create this expression, which seems to have been born with the conviction from the 2nd century BC onward of the existence of life after death, and thus of a general resurrection. We have two texts:
It is probable that we are faced here with one of the convictions of Jesus which he shared with a part of the Judaism of his time which affirmed the existence beyond death of a resurrection of the dead operated by God. But this resurrection followed God's judgment on human existence, and was offered to those who had followed a path of justice. This is the framework within which the question of man that begins this story must be situated.
To conclude this verse-by-verse analysis in which we have tried to identify what Mark received from an earlier tradition and what he added to that tradition, let us try to identify the content of that tradition which might look like this
Someone came to him and knelt down and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit life without end? 18 But Jesus answered him, "Why do you say that I am good? No one is good except God. 19 You know the commandments: do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not commit fraud, treat your father and mother with honor." 20 But he pointed out to Jesus, "Teacher, all these things I have observed from my youth." 21 Then Jesus, after looking at him, began to love him and said to him, "One thing you lack; go, sell all these things you possess, give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; come here and follow me." 22 But he became sad at these words and went away all miserable. For he had many possessions. 23 Jesus said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have possessions to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples said to one another, "But who can be saved? "27 After looking at them, Jesus said, "For men it is impossible, but not for God. For with God everything is possible."
For the rest of his account, Mark probably incorporated another ancient story from the context of Jesus' promise to those who followed him:
Jesus said to those who had followed him: 29 "Truly, I assure you, no one who has followed me without 30 receiving a hundred times as much now in this time and for the time to come a life without end.
|Expression zōē aiōnios in the Gospels-Acts|
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2015