Mark 10:17-22 (ESV)
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.
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Today there is a tendency for shallow minded critics to read this as Jesus denying he is God. Historically, people read this as Jesus driving a point home, you call me good, do you then not know who you are talking too?
Of course it goes against the grain here. Think about it. Jesus doesn’t think you are good. According to him, no one is good. This is infact a point made again and again throughout scripture, but why read it? I mean we can all agree it is the inspired and inerrant word of God, why should we go further and actually bother ourselves with what it says. Of course, I’m good. I’m better than you anyway.
People want to believe they are good. People really can’t stand to hear anything different. If you challenge the notion that they are good, well the truth hits too close to home, more often then not. It is unbelievably difficult to get a church to grow when you tell people what the Bible actually says about them. This is why the cross is such a scandal. It says you are so bad, that to be redeemed God actually had to sacrifice himself for you. Of course this is also why the commandments are often so unpopular also. You can’t take them seriously and think you come out smelling like roses.
I find it dumbfounding the things for which people think they are good. Some it is complete ignorance. I asked a woman once if she thought she could keep the Ten Commandments if God gave her a clean slate today. She answered in the affirmative. Stunned, I asked her if she knew the Ten Commandments. She did not. So I recited them for her. We didn’t get past an explanation of the first one, before she was in hysterics and didn’t want to hear anymore. It dashed her hopes of getting into heaven for being a good person.
Of course, it didn’t work on this man. He had duped himself into believing he had kept the commandments, at least best he could. Funny though, he didn’t think it was enough. He knew the commandments, he kept them best he could, but he knew he needed something else. This is why he is asking the question. One might think he is close to despair already. Jesus, I’ve done these things. But he still felt guilty, he couldn’t see that he had not done them. He didn’t know why he felt guilty. He knew he hadn’t been good enough, but the answer must be elsewhere, outside the commandments.
Jesus looked on him and loved him. The same is true of you. Jesus doesn’t consider you good, but he still loves you. The news this morning, Demi Moore, was quoted saying she was scared that at the end of her life she would find there was something fundamentally unlovable about her. This seems to be what drove her to a prescription pill addiction. I can understand that. I think most of us are afraid of that. And there is something fundamentally unlovable about us, it is called sin. We are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. I think we are guilty of that, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And I mean guilty. Guilty, because more often than not we don’t get around to loving ourselves as we should, there are days when I quite despise myself. Oh, I have a love for myself, but it is a perverted sort of love that manifests itself not in love for others but in narcissism. And of course, it is a brittle love, way too often dependant on the approval of others. Of course that drives me to excel…. Yep. You can see where that dead end leads. Then I take my frustrations out on those whom I do love.
Yeah, if we could figure this love thing out, if we could figure out how to love ourselves despite our sin, then maybe we could figure out how to love our neighbor in the manner they ought to be loved. Sin might be something about ourselves fundamentally unlovable, but it doesn’t stop Jesus from loving us. He loved this man, whom he found not to be good. He loved him the text says. He loved a man who could not love himself more than he loved his money. What perverted people we are. Believe me you are no different. If rich people believed it was only material, they wouldn’t have so much of it, and if poor people believed it, they wouldn’t be so envious. This man wanted eternal life, but when it came to his money and possessions, he was unwilling to give them up, that he might have eternal life. How different are we? People haven’t changed much. I’ve watched many choose friends and family over Jesus, if not money. The disciples gave up their boats. Sometimes I wonder if I have ever given anything up. I know Jesus did though. He gave up his life for this man, for you and for me. Despite our sin, he loved us. That is what it means to be good, to love unconditionally. And in that love, we find reason to love our neighbor, and ourselves.