In the first part of his gospel (Mk 1: 14 – 18: 26) Mark presented a Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God by his word and deeds, by his preaching, teaching and acts of power. But when we come to the second part of the gospel of Mark (Mk 8: 27 – 16: 8) we see a notable change in the evangelists’ presentation of Jesus’ activities. Jesus’ miracles practically cease in the second part of the gospel, and instead of the proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus now sets conditions for entrance into the Kingdom. This is true especially of the central section (Mk 8: 27 – 10: 52) in which Jesus not only instructs his followers on the cost of discipleship (Mk 8: 34 – 9: 1; 9: 33-37; 10: 42-45); but also makes extreme demands of those who wish to enter the Kingdom of God. Thus cutting off the offending hand or foot or plucking out the eye may be necessary for entering the Kingdom (Mk 9: 42-48). In Mark 10: 15 entrance into the Kingdom is spoken of as a gift of God-given to those who can receive it with the dispositions of children. The subject matter of Mark 10: 17-22 and Mark 10: 23-31 is again into the entrance into the Kingdom.
Mark 10: 17-22 contains the story of a rich man who came to Jesus asking what he must do in order to inherit eternal life, namely, to enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Mk 10: 23-31; 9: 43-47). As we shall see, this episode is essentially a discipleship story at the end of which the rich man will learn the cost of discipleship. At the beginning of the story Mark reminds us that Jesus was on his journey, an information which he deliberately repeats several times in this section (cf. Mk 8: 27; 9: 30, 33; 10: 1, 32, 46, 52). The mention of Jesus’ journey in Mark 10: 17 is not superfluous. The evangelist wants his readers to keep in their minds that it was on the way to Jerusalem, to his passion and death, that Jesus called the man to follow him. Mark does not specify who this man was but he does vividly describe what the man did. He came running he knelt before Jesus and addressed him formally, using a title of honour. His question too was of great importance. All this shows that he respected Jesus and that his question was truly genuine. The form of address ‘good teacher’ is unusual and is very rarely found in Jewish writings.
In his reply Jesus reminds him of the Jewish understanding that God alone is good and that it is rather improper to call anyone good independently of God (Mk 10: 18). In other words, by refusing to accept the complimentary address ‘good teacher’ Jesus wants to turn the man’s attention away from himself to God who alone is good. It is again God’s commandments and not his own requirements or demands that Jesus asks the man to observe in order to gain eternal life (Mk 10: 19). The commandments cited by Jesus (cf. Ex 20: 12-16; Deut 5: 16-20) are those which concern human relationship especially by avoiding evil. As a law-abiding Jew the man had kept all the commandments and his words (Mk 10: 20) seem to imply that he was ready to meet any other demand. Jesus now issues an explicit call to follow him as a disciple (Mk 10: 21).
The call to discipleship is always preceded by a reference to Jesus’ looking at a person (cf. Mk 1: 6, 19; 2: 14). In Mark 10: 21, the evangelist says: “Jesus looking upon him loved him” which may simply mean Jesus’ interest in him or his admiration for this man. By fixing his gaze upon him Jesus is able to see what the man lacks; he asks him to follow him as a disciple for this is the only thing that he lacks. But there is one condition; he is asked to renounce his wealth, in favour of the poor, to sacrifice his material security. The renunciation of riches is a condition for discipleship because his great possessions would be hindrance to his becoming a true disciple. Thus with the call to discipleship – eternal life (Mk 10: 17) is offered to this man, “You will have treasure in heaven” (Mk 10: 21). In other words, the full answer to the question posed by the man in Mark 10: 17 is not in the observance of the law (Mk 10: 19), or in the command to renounce all he possesses but in the call to follow Jesus (Mk 10: 21) in whom is authentic life offered as a gift. The evangelist concludes the story by describing vividly the reaction of the man (Mk 10: 22). Evidently the man realized the cost of discipleship but he was not prepared to sacrifice his wealth and security in order to share the ‘insecurity’ of Jesus. He loved his great possessions more than the eternal life he sought.