Status (Mark 10:13-16, 22)
A distinctive aspect to Mark’s rendering of the story is its juxtaposition with the account of the little children being brought to Jesus, and the subsequent statement that the kingdom is to be received like such infants (Mark 10:13-16). What links the two passages is probably not the issue of security, or relying on financial resources rather than on God. Rather, the point of contact is the issue of status. In ancient Mediterranean society, children were without status, or at least were of a low status. They possessed none of the properties by which status was judged. Crucially, they owned nothing. The rich young man, by contrast, has an abundance of status symbols (Mark 10:22) and he owns much. (In Luke’s account, he is explicitly called a “ruler,” Luke 18:18.) The rich young man may miss entering the kingdom of God as much because of his slavery to status as because of his slavery to wealth per se.
In today’s workplaces, status and wealth may or may not go hand in hand. For those who grow in both wealth and status through their work, this is a double caution. Even if we manage to use wealth in a godly manner, it may prove much harder to escape the trap of slavery to status. Recently a group of billionaires received much publicity for pledging to give away at least half of their wealth. Their generosity is astounding, and in no way do we wish to criticize any of the pledgers. Yet we might wonder, with the value of giving so recognized, why not give away much more than half? Half a billion dollars still exceeds by far any amount needed for a very comfortable life. Is it possible that the status of remaining a billionaire (or at least a half-billionaire) is an impediment to devoting an entire fortune to the purposes that are so clearly important to a donor? Is it any different for workers of more modest means? Does regard for status keep us from devoting more of our time, talent, and treasure to the things we recognize as truly important?
The same question can be asked of people whose status does not correlate with wealth. Academics, politicians, pastors, artists, and many others may gain great status through their work without necessarily making a lot of money. Status may arise from working, say, at a particular university or remaining the toast of a certain circle. Can that status become a form of slavery that keeps us from jeopardizing our position by taking an unpopular stance or moving on to more fruitful work elsewhere?
How painful might it be to put our work-related status at risk — even a little bit — in order to serve another person, diminish an injustice, maintain your moral integrity, or see yourself in God’s eyes? Jesus had all this status and even more. Perhaps that’s why he worked so hard to set aside his status through daily prayer to his “father” and by putting himself constantly in disreputable company.
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, A Social-Scientific Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 238. “Children had little status within the community or family. A minor child was on a par with a slave and only after reaching maturity was he/she a free person who could inherit the family estate. The term ‘child/children’ could also be used as a serious insult (see Matthew 11:16-17).”
Stephanie Strom, “Pledge to Give Away Half Gains Billionaire Adherents,” New York Times, August 4, 2010.