The Grace of God (Mark 10:23-31)
The subsequent words of Jesus (Mark 10:23-25) elaborate the significance of the encounter, as Jesus stresses the difficulty faced by the wealthy in entering the kingdom. The young man’s reaction illustrates the attachment the rich have to their wealth and to the status that goes with it; significantly, the disciples themselves are “perplexed” by Jesus’ statements about the wealthy. It is perhaps noteworthy that when he repeats his statement in Mark 10:24, he addresses the disciples as “children,” declaring them unburdened by status. They have already been unburdened by wealth as a result of following him.
Jesus’ analogy of the camel and the eye of the needle (Mark 10:25) probably has nothing to do with a small gate in Jerusalem, but could be a pun on the similarity of the Greek word for a camel (kamelos) and that for a heavy rope (kamilos). The deliberately absurd image simply emphasizes the impossibility of the rich being saved without divine help. This applies to the poor as well, for otherwise “who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). The promise of such divine help is spelled out in Mark 10:27, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” This keeps the passage (and hopefully us, as readers) from descending into a simple cynicism toward the rich.
This leads Peter to defend the disciples’ attitudes and history of self-denial. They have “left everything” to follow Jesus. Jesus’ reply affirms the heavenly reward that awaits all those who make such sacrifices. Again, the things left by such people (“house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields”) potentially have connotations of status and not merely material abundance. In fact, Mark 10:31 pulls the whole account together with a forceful emphasis on status—“Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Up until this point, the account could reflect either a love for things in and of themselves, or for the status that those things provide. This last statement, though, places the emphasis firmly upon the issue of status. Soon after, Jesus declares this in explicit workplace terms. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). A slave, after all, is simply a worker with no status, not even the status of owning their own ability to work. The proper status of Jesus’ followers is that of a child or slave — no status at all. Even if we hold high positions or bear authority, we are to regard the position and authority as belonging to God, not ourselves. We are simply God’s slaves, representing him but not assuming the status that belongs to him alone.
This is simply a myth that has circulated in popular Christian circles. William Barclay popularized it in his Daily Study Bible Commentary; see William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 253. It is unclear what the origins of this myth are, but no such gate has ever been found, in Jerusalem or elsewhere.