At first, Paul Klee’s New Harmony may appear rigidly four-square, but a closer inspection could lead us to notice imprecision in these ‘squares’. Can we imagine how the colours and shapes—interpreted by some as Klee’s response to musical theory—might undulate, dance, and play together? When Jesus enumerates familiar commandments, do they work like these discrete colours? What does it mean to keep all of the commandments?
Perhaps the rich young man in this passage imagines God’s instructions as something like Klee’s patterns. Jesus rearranges the music of the law in a way that is analogous to the way our eyes might move about Klee’s painting. Harmony emerges in relation, not isolation.
Klee, too, might help us find the harmony in those words of Jesus that connect the rich man to the other disciples; all are addressed as ‘children’ (Mark 10:24). No one can win the inheritance of eternal life through their own isolated brilliance, zeal, or action.
The more memorable lesson of this passage may be about money, but the Gospel cautions against all sorts of self-centred focus. Jesus calls for a hard a way of keeping commandments—with a love suitable for building the kingdom of heaven rather than a concern with one’s own success. The rich man must learn to see and hear others; he must be harmonized in a new way. Peter and other disciples, too, must be wary of ‘owning’ their discipleship as though it were a clear-cut or finished work. Peter exclaims that the disciples have already met the terms of Jesus’s amazing request to the rich young man: ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you’ (v.28). Jesus replies with yet another inversion. Overconfidence in the eventual harmony of eternal life might refuse to see and respond to the interim dissonance of ‘persecutions’ (v.30).
Mark’s Gospel continuously rearranges what was already known. Its ‘good news’ takes us beyond the known, asking more of us than we are prepared for, and directing us to love what is beyond our habitual horizons. Do we know what keeping all of the commandments looks like? It might be more like listening between colours.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” 21And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”