(1824 - 1911)
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler
Johann Michael Ferdinand Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911) was a German painter of the late 19th to early 20th Century. He was the uncle of the German painter Ludwig von Hofmann. He was born in Darmstadt and died in Dresden.
He is best known for his many paintings depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" painted in 1889, was purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr, and is now residing at Riverside Church, in New York.
This painting illustrates a story from Mark 10:17-22 where a wealthy young man approaches Jesus and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Christ gestures toward an impoverished woman and man and invites the man to sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow Him.
The young man is richly dressed with refined features, testifying of his life of wealth and ease.
The contrast between rich and poor, pleasure and misery, spiritual and worldly is paramount in this painting.
However, it is the detail of the empathetic head of Christ that has captured the imagination of millions of Christian viewers.
It has been reproduced perhaps more than any other image of the Saviour. The success of many of Hofmann’s paintings is his ability to offer such emotion in his figures.
Hofmann successfully portrays a mixture of regret and compassion, capturing the great love of Jesus as He invites the young man to sacrifice personal desires to follow Him.
17“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother’. 20 He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth’. 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me’. 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’. 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ’Then who can be saved?’ 27 Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible’.
28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you’. 29 Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life’”.
The Danger of Riches
The encounter of Jesus with the rich young man is found if all Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Luke and here in Mark.
In the Gospel of Luke, the young man is identified as a “ruler” and Jesus proposes him “the higher way”.
In Matthew’s version Jesus tells him: “If you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor”. However, in the account of Mark, there is no “if” clause.
Therefore, one who pays attention to the description of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark will think that in order to follow Jesus s/he should give up all s/he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow him.
“A young man ran up and knelt before him”
This was very unusual: A rich aristocrat falls at the feet of Jesus who could be well regarded by this man as a penniless Prophet. He then addresses Jesus with the title “good master/teacher”, and this is also unusual, because it sounds as too effusive because “No one is good except God alone”.
What we see here, is an eager, prospective disciple, who has kept all the commandments since his childhood. Jesus loved him, but He also challenged him. He addressed to him the call to discipleship: “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor”.
Some scholars claim that the challenge to the man is better taken as related to his particular situation than as a general principle of Christian life. It is surely not meant to be considered as the basis of a call to a superior state of life.
To understand this, we need to consider that in Judaism wealth was often taken as a sign of divine favour with an obligation to give alms to the poor. Almsgiving is therefore portrayed as a privilege given to the rich. However, what was so hard in this man’s case was the invitation to forgo even this privilege for the sake of proclaiming the coming of his Kingdom. This means, sharing in Jesus’s life-style of dependence on God.
“For he had many possessions”
These possessions probably had to do with the ownership of property and the financial benefits accruing from it.
“The young man went away sad”
He valued his possessions more than the invitation of Jesus and the values of the Kingdom.
Jesus then takes advantage of this encounter and turns to his Disciples to teach them by clarifying that having many possessions is an almost insurmountable deterrent to possession of the Kingdom of God.
The reaction of the Disciples
This overwhelmed the Disciples. It probably overwhelmed Mark’s first readers as thoroughly as it challenges us today.
Peter wanted to know what he and the others would get because they had left everything. The reply of Jesus does not lack in generosity: They would receive a hundredfold. Jesus promised rewards “not only” in eternal life but also a rich social and religious fellowship in the present.
One more Demand
Jesus added one more thing: “Persecution in this life” and then the reward of “eternal life” in the next. On any occasion, Jesus reminds his Disciples that they stand in the shadow of the Cross.
“Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”
The disproportioned comparison drives home the point that it is practically impossible for a “rich person” to enter the Kingdom of God. It is very difficult for those who trust in their wealth to enter the Kingdom.
“All things are possible to God”
To the Disciples astonished question “Who can be saved?” the reply of Jesus emphasises the power of God and the reliance on him as the only way to salvation. Thus, mere renunciation of wealth is not even enough to guarantee salvation. Salvation is God’s gift and everything is possible with God.
“The last will be first”
In its present context in the Gospel of Mark, the saying is of encouragement to the Disciples, and not of gloom. It points out the reality of the ‘great reversal’: The reward of discipleship surpasses sacrifices now and in the future. Someone may stand well in his or her own judgement but find that the evaluation of God of his or her person is very different. Jesus tries to drive this ideal into the disciples’ minds several times, in different ways but this may be the only occasion where the Disciples are compared favourably.
The rich young man would have been seen as first in the earthly world, with his wealth, and first in the ancient religious world with his history of following the law. Yet he is last in the Kingdom of God. This is partially because he refuses to surrender his worldly blessings for the Kingdom. It is also because he refuses to rely on God’s grace instead of his own efforts.
In the world of today, just as in the time of Jesus, security in possessions and in money can pull people away from depending on God as the true source of their life, here and hereafter. Like the man in the Gospel story, all of Mark’s Christians are called to radical discipleship.
To follow Jesus still means “to go and sell what one has”. To belong to Jesus still means “to be poor”: to rely solely on God, for whom all things are possible!
The chief theological teachings are that wealth can be an obstacle to discipleship; and that the rewards of discipleship are infinitely greater than the sacrifices required to give up something of our wealth for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Eventually, the ultimate judgement belongs to the grace of God.
“Loving Lord, All I have is yours. May I never hold on to your gifts so tightly
that they begin to hold on to me. May my hands be open,
both to receive your blessings,
and to let them go;
both to carry your gifts,
and to pass them on.
Teach me to see this temporary world for what it is
– grass that withers, flowers that fall –
and may I see instead your eternal kingdom
and my treasure in heaven”.
· Today we are reminded of the difficulty that comes from being too attached to
things and forgetting that true fulfilment comes from the love of God and the love
It is a great blessing to be free enough to use things for the purpose of loving. The
only things we can bring with us when we die are the things we have given away.
Without God, this kind of loving is impossible.
I ask him for his help.
· The man’s riches are not the problem as such, but his attitude towards them.
It is as if he is possessed by his own possessions, and not in charge of them.
Wealth and material things can subtly control us.
Do material things or worldly considerations get in the way of my relations with God
and with others?
Am I missing out on the real treasures in life – health, faith, friendship, love…?
· It is very significant that Jesus still looked at this man and ‘loved him’, even
though his ‘many possessions’ prevented him from actually following Jesus. It
highlights the fact that God in his Son understands our weaknesses and limitations,
and still loves us.
· For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for
"What are some things in your life right now that are only possible with God?
How do you think you can grow if you really believe that all things are possible with
Do you trust yourself more, or God more? Why?
 Luke 18: 22: “There is still one thing you lack”.  Matthew 19: 21 Mark 8:34: “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’”. Mark 9:35: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’”. Mark 10:42-45: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’”.