Mark 10:22

But the man’s face clouded at these words, and he went away distressed, for he had great possessions.

it’s turtles all the way down
today and tomorrow
names for nascent turtles
for their time and turn

as much as we work to gather
comfort and ease
for some later protection
this is as nothing

it is harder to give
ease and comfort
in a zero-sum game
we fear is rigged

our fondest hope founders
day after day
on simple solutions
reversing course

Askers of questions are often dismayed at the responses they get. As questions often mask an idea, when a response doesn’t match up with the often sublimated idea there is disappointment at the realization that we are not justified in our position. Sadness can be expected.

The Greek here is στυγνάσας (stugnasas, to be sorrowful), which may be a good word to bring back into a depressed society.

Listen to Swanson232 describe his experience with these sorts of questions:

… we misunderstand this scene about giving everything away if we forget that we do not, not for a minute, believe that the young man should give everything away, at least not if the young man were our own son. Watch interpreters carefully. When faced with a passage like this one, they valorize self-denial mightily. They urge similar self-denial on the part of the audience. And then they go home and plan for their retirement, or for their child’s career. I teach American undergraduates. They are a good lot, devoted to lives of service. I also talk to the parents with some frequency. Their parents are also a good lot, concerned for the well-being of their offspring. Parents sing a regular refrain in these conversations. It begins something like this: “But what can you do with a major in … ?” It does not matter what word comes next. If the major field in question is biology/pre-med, no one asks. But any other field can be a cause for concern. I teach religion. You can imagine the questions I get asked. So far no parent has said, “I hope my daughter picks up dying people off the street for no pay.” Why not?

The possessions in question are specifically land, property. It doesn’t matter if it is land possessed by an individual or an Empire. In the end, land is for the benefit of all, dominion does not work here.

Mark 10:21

Jesus looked at the man, and his heart went out to him, and he said, “There is still one thing wanting in you; go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have wealth in heaven; then come and follow me.”

peering searching
laser-like gaze
sees accumulated good
hell-proof armor
thickening immobilizing

assessing assaying
clear-eyed evaluation
focuses on repentant action
a spirited can-opener
reducing toning

claiming calling
bell-pealed alarm
strips all yesterdays
eternity-revealed prescription
selling voiding

offering beckoning
soul-tuned song
keying a locked treasure
denying an eternity
joying rejoicing

Love is many splendored. Trying to parse it too closely turns into vivisection in search for a soul. Here we simply note that ἀγαπάω (agapō, dearly loved, greatly welcomed) will again show up in reference to the partnered acts of repentance: to love G*D; to love Neighb*r.

The depth of this deep gaze into another does not stop with loving another “as we find them”, but goes, in the words of the songwriter Fred Kaan, to love them “as they may become”.

In this way love is able to not only support, but amend.

Before us we have a loveable person. That is all that is known at this point. Recent Bibles spoil the fun of reading these ancient stories by titling sections. In this way they spoil the action.

We’ve seen people come up to Jesus before—a wild man in the land of the Gerasenes, a leader of a synagogue, a woman to touch his garment. The only difference here is that we are dealing with the ethics of living, rather than the physics of living. In this realm the only thing that can satisfy is a baptismal metanoia or turning around that comes with a shift of focus from accumulation of precious seeds to an extravagant sowing of them.

We are now shocked to learn that a usual marker of success, wealth, is a barrier to going any further than we now are. It is a block to what we may become. If we can read this without the spoiler alert of a heading, it may be a needed shock to whatever our current addiction may be. Now we can again choose a less-traveled road.

Mark 10:20

“Teacher,” he replied, “I have observed all these from my childhood.”

everything I’ve done
all those good bits
in my favor

I’ll claim it all
those naughty bits
now by confession

I’m looking beyond
already completed
tomorrow’s assurance

this day by day
wearies my judgment
unto an extended warranty

“I’ve met all the prerequisites for your course. Now I want your syllabus and be able to glean from it what I need for a final exam. Thanks, in advance, for your synopsis of your teaching as I have more enriching things to do than come to class on a regular basis.”

And we come to an important point of presence.

Where are we going to show-up as there is no substitute for experience? That blanket statement is particularly important for woo-woo disciplines such as religious studies. To even go through the motions of processes (take what you have seen and heard and go, be hospitable) and rituals (prayer) is to be affected by whatever power they have.

As creatures with a built-in bias of partnership, simply being in the presence of another builds in strands of relationship. The more there are the stronger the bond. This is most revealed in troublesome relationships that become so difficult to break.

We are also at a point of revelation.

The invoking of the very best of our tradition is never sufficient for keeping up on a journey to new life. Every tradition brings value, but never enough value to simply be repeated and expect the same return in a different time and setting.

It is important to not murder (within the group). It is also important to grow this understanding to the murder of hope as well as that of breath. It is, likewise, important to expand a restriction on murder beyond the group. This expansion even goes beyond a category of human to include other living beings, including the earth.

Mark 10:19

You know the commandments – ‘Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not say what is false about others. Do not cheat. Honor your father and your mother.’”

our every question
arises from our undoing
of every value held dear

each disconnect forces fantasies
of doing better than we are
lest we see how far away we are

we play our gifts and fears
against one another
barely making a passing grade

don’t this and don’t that
do and do and do
can meet law’s letter

all the while knowing our discord
how hard we work at minimal response
how sporadic our persistence

yes we know
but from a distance
how little we soar

It is comforting to know that Jesus doesn’t just roll off the highly honored 10 Commandments.

Why aren’t the injunctions about putting G*D first, idolatry, the use of G*D’s name, and Sabbath listed here? Why not curry direct favor with the Layer-Down-of-Rules?

Instead we have Commandments about ordinary human relationships — Commandments 6–9 (murder, adultery, stealing, and lying), a variant on 10 (coveting realized through cheating/defrauding), and ending with 5 (parents).

Cheating or Defrauding comes from Deuteronomy’s concern with justice, equity, and charity (see Deuteronomy 24:14–15). It is also used later in 1 Corinthians 6:7–8. This is very important for religious people in today’s world of an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. The rich cannot become even more so except through tilting the coveting field in their direction or defrauding the poor. A simple look at tax codes in America will reveal the importance of this commandment that goes beyond personal virtue. Fraud reminds us to follow the money and it will eventually lead to the fatal flaw in every economic system that will get played with an appeal to a prosperity gospel equating riches now with more riches to come.

Cheating is the antithesis of welcoming and hospitality, of suffering, death, and resurrection, of detaching from power and privilege by partnering with children.

Mark 10:18

“Why do you call me good?” answered Jesus. “No one is good but God.

hmm another testing
and ain’t it the case
the bigger the good
the larger the test

makes it seem the worse
for our sense of awe
its very awesome aweness
holds its greatest danger

infatuation and intoxication
are easy addictions
changing our brain chemistry
and time between hits

we fall from an easy integrity
to an advertiser’s new New NEW
requiring ever purer awesomeness
rising from within

After a trapping question about divorce we come to a seemingly appropriate question about moral and ethical development by a seemingly regular guy. We are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Why shouldn’t Jesus simply accept the compliment just paid to him? Malina244 suggests:

In a limited good society, compliments indicate aggression; they implicitly accuse a person of rising above the rest of one’s fellows at their expense. Compliments conceal envy, not unlike the evil eye. Jesus must fend off the aggressive accusation by denying any special quality of the sort that might give offense to others. Such a procedure is fully in line with the canons of honor. The honorable person, when challenged, pushes away the challenge and diffuses any accusation that might fuel the position of his opponents. Here the counterquestion serves to ward off the unwitting challenge, while the proverb “No one is good but God alone” wards off the envy.

In addition to this cultural aspect, on the simplest of levels a good teacher doesn’t let their student get away with extraneous details that distract from whatever issue is at hand. The matter of seeking whatever might be meant by “eternal life” or a life no longer under occupation but lived in accordance with everything wrong put right is not to be confused with some unknown quality of “goodness” or “wholeness”. The goodness of the teacher is not relevant to import of the quest anymore than the purity of a priest defines the value of any ritual in which they participate. If a search for “eternal life” has brought this person running, that is enough to go on.

In the end, none of us carry virtue by ourselves. We engage in being a partner (ally, advocate, accomplice) on a good journey.

Mark 10:17

As Jesus was resuming his journey, a man came running up to him, and threw himself on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

hey you
yeah you
hold on
got a question

what’s the rule
guaranteed ’til then
about landing better
prospects than now

folks say you’ve got
good insight for today
and a better tomorrow
so what gives huh

I’ve got a five
says it’s nothing
what you say
so show me

now’s good
for me
how’s it
by you

Jesus has encountered his disciples essentially claiming, “For now the presence of children is incompatible with following Jesus”. For whatever reason they used in the moment, Jesus countered that with a welcome and a blessing before continuing on his way.

Before continuing on our way, the church has continually used this same formula of incompatibility regarding art, science, women, people of color, the poor, the colonized, and LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups. An example of this is the current claim of United Methodists sending of children away—“the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.

It is in this context, some restricting others from the limited viewpoint of claiming their greatness, that we hear of a person hurrying toward Jesus to ask a question about a holistic way of life. This is a question the disciples and the church seem to always answer for themselves from a viewpoint that requires a scapegoat for its own sense of purity.

It is as if this never-ending constriction is sufficient without reflection, much less practice of what has been indicated as a next step. In this way the accusation of hypocrisy is an ever-present reality for disciples in each age.

A legal approach to the experience of life sets the stage for an aborted healing. The premise of finding a guarantee of a future state through a present action is faulty. Though we are getting better with weather predictions, there is no reliable way of modifying it to get a season of “perfect” days (other than on the macro-scale of climate change and this seems to be heading in a negative direction in regard to our short-term adaptability).

Mark 10:16

Then he embraced the children, and, placing his hands on them, gave them his blessing.

in every situation
of subservience
where barriers
are set
through practice
and assumption

an alternative
needs practice
to set in place
a freedom
to honor
beyond the pale

In today’s litigious context any return of Jesus would not run afoul of any charge of blasphemy or insurrection. In their place it would only be necessary to whisper about inappropriate touching.

A serial “laying on of hands” as a benediction (“G*D bless you”) in a public setting may reduce the likelihood of an accusation but certainly does not remove it.

Bratcher317, notes,

In his arms probably refers to a position on his lap rather than to his simply lifting them up from the ground while he was in a standing position (as a Rabbi he was probably teaching in a seated position). This difference is important in some languages.

Position is not only important in language, but in deed.

Malina243 sees this scene differently,

The picture is one of peasant women, many of whose babies would be dead with their first year, fearfully holding them out for Jesus to touch. Jesus’ laying his hands on children to protect them from or clear them of the evil eye (this is the main malignancy from which parents have to protect their children in the Mediterranean) is offered as a model for how to enjoy God’s patronage (=entering the kingdom of heaven). The argument is that God’s patronage belongs to those ready and willing to be clients.

The Greek would favor Bratcher and the cultural context would lean toward Malina. This reminds us to temper our tendency toward literalizing that which we call scripture with its setting. Barth has famously said, “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible” (Time magazine, Friday, May 31, 1963). This has been rephrased in many different ways. My preference is to either add an additional phrase, “and interpret your reading of the Bible from life around you” or to altogether drop the second sentence. If there is not a partnership critique or loyal-opposition relationship between our belief structures and our lived experience we will find the whole of our life unhelpfully warped. Favoring either part paralyzes a parabolic appreciation of life.

Mark 10:15

I tell you, unless a person receives the kingdom of God like a child, they will not enter it at all.”

keys welcome

begets assurance

reveals presence

plays with child

gladly enter

Here is the reality of our situation: Without a welcoming curiosity we miss the exploration of a larger space and time.

Recognizing that children are no more uniform than any other group, there have been numerous interpretations given of what a child-like behavior is that might be helpful to adults.

It may well be an intuited response to danger we have covered over with a descriptor of being “shy”. It can as likely be a devil-may-care attitude that leads a child into danger all on their own. Whatever the developing personality or learned behavior a child may have as a first response to the world around, there are two components that rise to mind here.

The first is a willingness to step toward a next unknown. This is the learning process of observation and experimenting. G*D’s presence usually comes in the context of an unknown, as a hint of tomorrow here in the middle of today. At this time and place there are all manner of things and events that are going extinct. Everything is passing away before our very eyes. At this same time and same place there are all manner of signs and revelations which will take on form and function in a next moment or seven generations down-the-line.

This moment of passing away and rising up can be entirely oblivious to us as we fixate on concretizing a life lesson into one or another, all too soon obsolete, doctrine or peeling back more layers of an onion than it has in any search for its basic essence. More helpful is a playful engagement with whatever new possibility is teasing us from just the other side of the horizon.

Welcoming the presence of G*D engages us as a beloved partner in creating an alternative world where there are multiple ways of making peace but only one way to make war instead of our current game of finding a gun hidden inside everything.

It is the perennial learner who will enter a next iteration of reality, what we now call a future heaven. How will “the nature and the name of Love” next reveal itself? Ready, Set, Explore!

Mark 10:14

When, however, Jesus saw this, he was indignant. “Let the little children come to me,” he said, “do not hinder them; for it is to the childlike that the kingdom of God belongs.

anger at anger
is more than anger

a larger context drawn
a deeper relationship desired

no allowance
for no allowance

my diminishment by way of theirs
is larger than privileged disparagement

together rising Phoenix-like
wings of graceful freedom are spread

refining even anger
to deeper beauty

Here there is no asking about what process the disciples are using. It need only be noted what the effect is. Caregivers and children are not only being turned away but embarrassed in the process. Those bringing a difficulty to Jesus for his consideration are blamed for their problem. This all too typical reversal-of-the-situation that is still being used by those who claim whatever small amount of power they can.

Myers120 names both a current and ancient reality regarding children:

To respond to the children in our midst calls us to deal with the vicious intergenerational cycles of violence and create the possibility for a transformed future for us and for our children.
If the epidemic of sexual and physical abuse now becoming publicly visible is any indication, the roots of violence in our family system run deep. We are learning about the terrible price that is paid by those who are abused and by families who often deny that abuse has occurred.

Here there doesn’t need to be deep analysis of various forces at work. This is an appropriate place for a clear judgment expressed with the force of anger.

The variant here that most pinches is that the care givers of the children are doing all they can to see to the well-being of their charge and it is institutions that are denying that structural abuse is occurring. This is the case with church and school and business and sports and the military and the list goes on.

Mark 10:13

Some of the people were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who had brought them.

healthy families
still have children
who need blessing

orphaned children
officially family-less
look for their blessing

disciples to this day
exhibit their privilege
blocking another’s blessing

all that is needed
is to stay out of Jesus’ way
until it is our Way

Faced with a tsunami of caregivers bringing child after child, any aid agency, much less a small group, will eventually come to a point of compassion fatigue. Having done all they can do and faced again with healings, blessings, they are not up to, the disciples move to triage.

With the potential of generous donors, one cut line is that of the poor. Children don’t have pocketbooks and their caregivers have probably exhausted other options before coming with no resources to a promised-to-be free clinic.

In 9:33–37 the disciples were caught arguing about which of this set of great disciples was the greatest. In response a child was brought forward to teach a lesson. As a continuation of that previous episode, the shown-up disciples have another opportunity to get some of their own back. When we contend over our greatness, it is usually those designated as the least that bear the brunt of our desire.

As a reader might well expect after a teaching regarding divorce and an ostensible setting of a hardline, the disciples strengthen their own rules about gatekeeping. At a minimum a quota of caregivers and children needs to be set. Blessings are rare and beautiful and must be protected.

Readers can not only catch the disciples out one more time, but begin to ask how it is that readers have caught on to Jesus’ teaching about powerlessness and begun to see themselves moving in that direction? When Mark’s narrative begins to take effect within his readers, if not the characters, life becomes more intense and interesting.

Readers can begin to feel an anger rise within against the disciples who are, again, missing the point. They only seem to want to catch big, lazy fish. These little ones don’t measure up and are being thrown back. This will not do!