Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (Mark 10: 21-22)
Mark 10 has got to be the most explained-away chapter in the LDS Standard Works. In it, Jesus goes negative on two things that Latter-day Saints like a lot. The first of these is wealth. Jesus tells his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (:25). The second is families, as “no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake . . . but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time” (:29-30).
These are hard sayings. Taken at face value, they have the potential to disrupt our comfortable lives and even to ruin things that we value—and should value—a lot. Fortunately, though, we have discovered a lot of creative readings of these verses that let us off the hook.
I have heard the work-arounds for most of my life. “The Eye of the Needle” is just the back door to Jerusalem; Jesus doesn’t really want US to sell everything that we have—that is just for the apostles; we aren’t supposed to leave our families unless they aren’t willing to follow the Gospel—and then we can do their temple work after they die. Surely Jesus knew that families are forever. And certainly he knew that good Americans need to provide for their families and that giving things to poor people only perpetuates their dependency.
Very few of us really believe that Jesus requires us to leave our families behind and sell all of our stuff. We don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to believe that. I have no intention of leaving my wife and children. And, since I need to help provide for my family, I am not going to be selling all of my stuff and giving it to the poor in the near future. Does that mean I don’t get to go to heaven? If so, I will certainly not be lonely
But what if Jesus is speaking descriptively here instead of prescriptively? What if, instead of telling the man how to qualify for a reward in heaven, he is simply pointing out that, BY DEFINITION, “entering the Kingdom of God” means giving up everything that is not the Kingdom of God. What if, instead of promising a reward based on an action, Jesus is simply explaining to his listeners what “eternal life” means?
If this is the case (and I think that this is the case) then Jesus’s advice to the young man—and his later statement to the apostles—should not be read as commandments to be obeyed, but as a simple statement of how things work: only one thing can be the most important thing in the world. That’s what “most important” means. We can want many things, but we can only want one thing more than we want anything else. God does not impose this limitation upon us; logic and language do. Nobody can want more than one thing the most.
And “the Kingdom of God” is not the sort of thing that we can have without wanting it most. Jesus makes this very clear in the Kingdom parables. This kingdom is not a reward for good behavior, nor is it something to be deferred to an afterlife. It is the consequence of a group of people wanting it more than anything else and being willing to give up everything else to get it. The early Latter-day Saints called this “Zion,” and they were willing to sacrifice everything they had, not to deserve it, but to create it.
I’m not there yet. I don’t want it enough, and like the young man in the Book of Mark, I am not willing to risk giving up everything tangible for an idea. This (I hope) doesn’t mean that I don’t get to go to heaven; but it does mean that, for now, I have to stay here on earth. I have to live in a world that is less perfect than it could be because I lack the faith to make a different one. This has nothing to do with God withholding His Kingdom from unrighteous children. It is neither a punishment nor the absence of a reward; it is a consequence. I have yet to become the kind of person who can inherit the Kingdom of God by being willing to give up everything else to create it.
And becoming such a person is precisely what it means to inherit the Kingdom of God.