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?"  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.' "  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22 (ESV)
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Not too long ago, I actually heard someone use this to deny the divinity of Christ. That is to say they used this to try prove that Jesus was not, and is not God. When Jesus asks the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” This person saw it as if Jesus were scolding the man for calling Him good and equating Him with God. Perhaps that conversation was just another proof of what Jesus said here. No one is good except God alone. Some days I want to pull my hair out for all the idiotic ideas I come across. They are frustrating. Jesus, the man who rose from the dead 3 days after he died for you, knew who He was and is. He is God, always has been God, always will be God. If he wasn’t he had no business dying on the cross. He went willingly. He went for you. He went because he is God who loves you, and being God He knew that his blood could pay for your sin. When he retorts to the man, he is challenging the man, to recognize what he is saying. Perhaps He is scolding him for using the term a bit to flippantly with others. But he is not scolding him for calling Jesus good. Not scolding him for calling him God. But trying to get the man to see what he has just said, and perhaps recognize that it is true.
Of course, we get that today, people wanting to make out that Jesus was a good teacher; the person who I was discussing this with wanted to see Jesus as a good teacher but nothing else. Jesus, here, drew a line in the sand. Either I am God or not. If I am God you are correct in calling me good. If I am not God, then I am not really a good teacher either. Am I? “No one is good except God alone.”
That truth stings a bit. WE like to consider ourselves good. He’s good. She’s a good person. He’s a good guy we like to say. Of course we never really think of these people as God. And we do know they are sinners. Or at least we should know that. And even though we call them good, we know they really aren’t. Should it go to their head a little bit, we would be able to pull out a file of sins with which to accuse them with. It is the American way after all. To keep records of all the bad things someone has done, with which to tear them down if they aver start getting to big for their britches, or run for president. So why do we call them good? No one is good. We Christians know that. The world knows it too. But they like to think there are good people. And generally when it comes to “civic” righteousness, that is the outward appearances, and the law of the land, well there are those people we think of as good. But we have to qualify it, don’t we. I once knew a man who would think of you as a good man, if you kept your lawn green and mowed. Today as the media bombards us with global warming, and we face drought every summer, one might be thought of as good for not spending the extra money on the water bill to keep his lawn green. No one is good except God alone.
So why do you call me good? Jesus asks. Are you recognizing me as God? Then why don’t you listen. The man asks him what he has to do to inherit eternal life. I guess he thinks of God as that uncle you have to impress, if you are to receive eternal life. HE asks what he has to do. Jesus tells him.
Some in our circles have this saying. “Ask a law question, get a law answer.” The implication is you are asking the wrong questions. The law binds me to answer these questions in this way. But there are other questions you might ask that may have better answers than the question you are asking. This man asked a law question. Jesus gives him an answer according to the law. This is why he first questions the man as to why He is calling him good. Jesus is trying to show the man, that if he really thinks Jesus is good, that is God, he might be asking different questions. Like why are you here? What did you come to do? Can I follow you around for a bit? This man already knows the law. He perhaps has even done a little better than most at keeping it, but senses it is not enough. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life”?
Jesus gives him the law. The man is naïve enough to think he has done these since childhood. So why does he ask the question? He knows the law. The only reason is He knows he hasn’t quite done as well of a job as he wants Jesus to believe he has. So Jesus lays the law on a bit thicker. That is the way with the law, there is always more. If you take it seriously it will suck the life out of you, throw you into despair and kill you. Jesus, the text says, loved him, this man. He answers a bit harshly. Sell all you have come and follow me.
The man leaves sad. He doesn’t love God more than the possessions he owns. HE has just proven that all these he has not kept from his youth. He has cleverly made for himself a few idols, a few things he will allow to stand in the way between him and the man he just identified as God. He is sad. He has great possessions. He doesn’t want to sell them to follow Jesus around like Matthew and Peter. Both of whom seem to have given up quite a bit to follow Jesus, Matthew a lucrative career as a tax collector, Peter, his own fishing boat, which wasn’t cheap. Be like an independent truck driver leaving the keys in his truck at the truck stop, and just leaving it. Not selling it. Leaving it. The man won’t do it.
Would you? Would you sell all you have to follow Jesus? We might like to think that we would. And perhaps you would. I don’t know. I think I might have trouble doing that. I know I’m not supposed to have anything that stands between me and God. Anything that I love, fear, or trust in more than God. But I don’t know if I would be honest in saying I don’t. Should it ever be required of me, and I followed through it would not be a testimony of my strength and will, but only that of Jesus who gives faith. Truth is, there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life. That is what Jesus is really trying to get at here. I am the only one Good. Your are not good, but you are correct to call me good, should that mean you recognize that I am God. But then you might ask me other questions, because the law doesn’t have the answers for you.
Jesus does have answers for you. The law will always find a way of crushing you. But the bruised reed He will not crush. The smoldering wick he will not put out. No, Jesus has the answers. We don’t do anything to inherit eternal life. There is nothing we can do. Because Jesus has done it all for us. He died on the cross that our sins might be forgiven, and that we would be given eternal life. So it is that you have that now.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.