The teaching on divorce and adultery that begins today's reading has to be balanced with the rest of the New Testament. In other passages related to this Jesus permits divorce in the case of adultery or abandonment -- when doing Bible study the individual verse and story have to be seen in the broadest context of the whole chapter, the whole book (in this case Mark) the whole New Testament and ultimately the whole Bible. Jesus teaching here is actually very conservative for his time. Rabbis had defined the divorce clause in the law of Moses to include pretty much anything. Divorce was easy and apparently commonplace. Because women could not hold property in 1st century Palestine, divorce would leave them homeless and destitute. By tightening the easiness of divorce (and since women could not divorce at that time only the men could) Jesus is helping protect women. I am disturbed with this same passage is used to keep women from divorcing when it is legitimate.
The Rich Man (sometimes called the Rich Young Ruler) is a perfect story for modern readers. In Jesus time it was generally believed that wealth and material prosperity was a sign of God's favor -- this is why the disciples are astonished at Jesus in verse 24 -- if the rich, who clearly have God's favor, cannot make the Kingdom of God what hope is there for the rest of us. This prosperity attitude is nicely exemplified in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. When Tevyeh sings "If I were a Rich Man" the third verse speaks of having the leisure to read the Torah and to study and to pray and to discuss questions that would "cross a Rabbi's eyes". There are passages in the Bible that seem to indicated that faithful living leads to material prosperity. However, like the divorce passage, these have to be balanced with the other passages that suggest that God's favor is experienced in a wide variety of ways and Not necessarily material prosperity. My favorite example is Hebrews 11 -- the first part of the chapter are all the happy stories of people being blessed by faith -- dead raised, Noah's faithfulness, mouths of lions are shut, etc. People who did great things by Faith. Then verse 35 of Hebrews 11 suddenly shifts -- others were tortured, refusing to accept release . . . and we read of all the FAITHFUL people who suffered and/or died for their faithfulness. God wishes us well but this life is not the be all and end all of our journey -- we move from glory to glory. If I am "prosperous" in this life then I need to be a good and faithful steward and if not I still need to be a good and faithful steward of what I have.
I am looking at the request of James and John (10:35ff) as part of this Sunday's sermon.