Rich Young Man and the Decalogue

In Mark 10, Jesus had an encounter with a “rich young man.” There are many things to draw from and reflect on in this story but I want to think about a particular issue brought up by N.T. Wright in Scripture and Authority. In his chapter on the Sabbath, he examines both New and Old Testament teaching and examples surrounding the Fourth Commandment. It is with this recent reading of mine in the background that I am looking at this passage.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

(Mark 10:17-21 ESV)

I stop there because the ensuing discussion does not bear on my current investigation.

A man comes and asks Jesus a seemingly straight-forward and sincere question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “You know the commandments,” and then he proceeds to list 6, 7, 8, 9, and 5 of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). (He also includes, “Do not defraud,” which is not in the decalogue.) The young man says that he has kept those. When Jesus answers, “You lack one thing,” we wonder if it might be commandments 1-4 and 10? That would not be an unreasonable reading of the story to this point. But Jesus’ reply is, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

It is not much of a stretch to say that this addresses the tenth commandment (coveting) and possibly the first (no other gods), which leaves us with a “gap” of the second (idols), third (vain use of God’s name), and fourth (Sabbath). Jesus’ command could possibly address the second, since selling everything would include any idols he may have had. We could even reasonably argue that Jesus’ correction at the beginning of their interchange (“Why do you call me good?”) addresses the third.

What, if anything, does this passage teach us about the Sabbath? Perhaps this fourth commandment is also addressed in Jesus’ command to sell everything and follow him?

Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Two points occur to me. First, one purpose of the Sabbath is to teach us that our frantic effort is not the only force sustaining us on the earth. If we faithfully obey by staying out of the field or the market one day per week, God will not let us go hungry. “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.” Second, Jesus declares that he is the source of our rest. To be with Christ is to learn rest. “Come, follow me.”

It seems plausible that this story teaches, among other lessons, what observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy means according to Jesus. Disentangle yourself from the world and follow me. That is how we rest in God.


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