Jesus had previously taught that followers of his must seek to be last among all and must be like a child. Now, he encounters questions about divorce, about blessing children, and about money. Jesus applies his teaching about childlike faith and serving from the bottom to each of these situations.
First, the Pharisees try to challenge about divorce. Jesus allows for their position but says that it is not God's intent, but comes about because of a hardness of heart. One divorces another, Jesus says, because they are serving themselves, not the other person in the marriage. This is obviously an extrapolation, but what Jesus is really saying is that the hardness of heart that leads to divorce begins in the marriage when one spouse puts his or her needs over the needs of the other. Such a self-serving attitude leads to divorce. For marriage to work, we must serve from the bottom, which is exactly what Jesus teaches about following him. Marriage is a laboratory for spiritual growth.
Second, children were brought to Jesus for blessings, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus teaches we must receive the kingdom of God just like a child does, with eager expectation, or we will not receive it at all.
Third, a man approaches Jesus and asks how to inherit eternal life. Jesus goes over the standard commandments with him, to which the man affirms that he has successfully kept them all. But then Jesus challenges him to give up the power he holds through his resources (this anticipates his next teaching about following him). The man's external obedience wasn't enough; Jesus unearthed an idol that was deeply held by this man, and if he could not let go of this idol, he would not be able to truly and fully follow Jesus. Part of this teaching, for Jesus, includes the statement that it is impossible for us to fully attain what we are called to, so we must rely on God. We must completely trust him as we follow him. This is what it means to first among the least. In this way, Jesus ties this incident to his previous teaching.
Jesus then shifts gears to talk, for the third time, about his upcoming death and resurrection. Again, for the third time, the disciples misunderstand. The brothers, James and John, approach Jesus and ask for positions of power in glory. Jesus rejects this, and when the other disciples hear about it, they become angry. Jesus teaches them that they are acting like the "Gentiles" (i.e., pagans). They are looking for importance in pride, power and positions. Instead, we should seek to be a servant, just like Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
The chapter ends with the bookend that ties this unit together, the story of the healing of Bartimaeus, who exemplifies a response of faith, and it his faith that heals him.
Do you have faith? How do you know? These chapters should be very challenging. Chapter 11 begins the end of Jesus' life, as he enters Jerusalem for the last week of his life. Mark has written his gospel to this point: you either see Jesus, his identity and authority, and his calling, by now, or you don't. We must wrestle with these questions. Are we living lives that focus on how others are serving us? Are we holding on to idols, perhaps using our moral lives as an excuse to grasp onto money? Do we have a simple, childlike faith? Do you have faith? Faith is not found in exemplary moral living, in Bible knowledge, or in positions held in the church. Faith in Jesus, as defined in Jesus, is found in serving as the least among us, denying yourself, and being like Jesus. Do you have that faith?