It’s been a few months since I’ve posted anything. I guess I misplaced my writing mojo (no reference to hoodoo intended). Oh, I’ve been writing, but just not up to the standard I try to maintain here. But I need to turn this thing around. I need to post something. So this morning I decided it’s time to put up or shut up. Here goes…
The pastor of my church is preaching a series that goes through the entire Bible — every book. He began the series a while back, before I even started attending the church, which was about six months ago. So he’s been at it for some time. He finally completed his overview of the Old Testament, and now we are into the New. Next Sunday, he will be preaching on Mark. So, I am preparing myself by reading ahead.
This morning, as I was going through chapter 10, I decided to write down my thoughts pertaining to the story of the man who asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I guess you can call this a commentary, though I do not pretend to be particularly qualified to call myself a commentator. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts:
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
The man’s question (What must I do?) is indicative of his point of view: that eternal life is something one gains by his own actions, something he does. His question is particularly religious in nature, anticipating religious instruction. He expects to be told how to live, how to pray, or what rites he should perform. In asking this, he assumes Jesus is teaching something new, something to be added to established, traditional, Jewish religious practices.
His question also shows that the religious leaders of his day had blurred the eternal aspects of their own religion, which had come to be seen more as the cement for their national, ethnic identity and the power base for their political unity. The belief that God offered eternal life had become of secondary importance, as had the idea that the Messiah would come for the purpose of offering eternal life. These fundamental issues became a matter of sectarian dispute, obscuring the teachings of their own Scripture. There are some great Old Testament verses about eternal life listed in the article at www.nightflare.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=160:eternal-life-in-the-old-testament&Itemid=225
Rather than directly answering the man’s question, Jesus caught him up on the very first words out of his mouth: “good teacher”. He asked, “Why do you call me good?” I’m sure the man’s choice of words was nothing more than a formality, a respectful way to address Jesus. But immediately, Jesus jumped on the word, “good”. Why do you suppose that is? I think it’s clear that the man was thinking about being good, thinking if he were only good enough, he would enter into eternal life. And his natural assumption would translate being good with doing good.
Jesus cut through all that by saying, “No one is good except God alone.” No matter what this man did, it would never make him “good” — at least not good enough to inherit eternal life. By so doing, Jesus underscored that neither being good nor doing good will result in inheriting eternal life. God alone is good. But in heaven, God isn’t alone. Therefore it must be something other than being good that gets us there.
Then Jesus reminded the man, “You know the commandments,” giving him six examples. The reminder was that the Torah has already given him instructions for what he must do. Thus, technically, the Torah has already provided the answer to the man’s question. But the man’s response (“all these I have kept from my youth”) tells us the reason why he approached Jesus with his question in the first place. He had done what his religion taught — all the right things, but still did not have the assurance of eternal life.
At this point, the Bible records, “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.'” The man’s question had been about inheriting eternal life. Jesus told him it’s not about being good, it’s not about what you do, but its about something he lacked.
He did not lack for material possessions. Some might be tempted to say it was treasure in heaven that he lacked. But while that is true, it is not true that everyone who sells all his possessions and gives to the poor will inherit eternal life. So, what is that one thing this man lacked? And why did Jesus give him instructions to sell his possessions and give to the poor, rather than tell him what he lacked?
Don’t miss the end of Jesus’ instructions: “and come, follow me“. What Jesus was telling this man to do was to get rid of the one thing that stood in the way of following him — the man’s attitude toward his possessions. Perhaps he saw his possessions as feathers in his cap. If so, he may very well have looked at inheriting eternal life as just another feather in his own cap. So, when the choice came down between one or the other, he lacked the faith to follow Jesus. Lack of faith is what prevented him from putting eternal life before everything else.
At the end of the story the man was disheartened and went away sorrowful. Jesus loved him. He obeyed the Torah. But he didn’t have that saving faith. I want to think that maybe sometime later this man thought things through and eventually did sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. There have been folks just like him who did just that. When it comes to matters of faith, there’s always hope.