Mark 10:17-18 (NIV): As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.”
This rich young man (10:22) had achieved much in his short life. He could have just taken it easy and lived on his wealth. But he had a spiritual hunger in his life, an emptiness in the core of who he was, that took the joy out of all of the material riches that he had amassed.
This man had heard about Jesus, the miracle worker and great teacher, who many believed knew the way to eternal life. So when he heard that Jesus was in the area, he rushed off to talk to Him. When he saw Jesus and His followers starting down the road, he threw himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet and panted, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” No introduction, no small talk, just blurting out the question before Jesus had a chance to move on.
Jesus’ first response has puzzled many over the ages: “Why do you call me good? No one is good–except God alone.” Some take this to mean that Jesus was denying that He was God, and that He was denying that He was good, thus undermining both the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness. But this is not what He was doing at all.
This young man did not come to Jesus to acknowledge that He was God. He knew nothing about Jesus or His life other than what he had heard. He came to Jesus purely as a “good” man, and a great teacher of spiritual things. His hope was that this teacher would help him to find the way to a relationship with the true God, without ever realizing that this man Himself WAS the way.
Jesus’ responses was actually ironic – even a little tongue in cheek. The young man had called Him “good,” but no mere human being could rightfully claim that adjective for Himself. And any that readily did should probably be eyed with suspicion. Only God is truly good. Any goodness that people may have shrinks to nothingness when compared to the true goodness of God. So was this young man just trying to butter Jesus up? Or did he actually acknowledge that Jesus was in fact God in the flesh?
Jesus knew that the young man was merely using the polite formula of the day. He did not come to Jesus because he realized who He was. He had come to a teacher, a guru, someone who could help him to find the real relationship with God that he desired. Jesus would tell him all that he wanted to know. But the man’s spiritual eyes were so misfocused that, in the process, he would miss the God whom he was seeking standing right in front of him!
Father, how treacherous it can be to take our own spiritual perceptions as ultimate truth. How treacherous it can be to go to fallible human beings for spiritual direction, believing them to be “good” and able to lead us to you, instead of just coming straight to You. The reality is that You are as accessible to us today as Jesus was to that rich young man. But all too often people still come to Jesus so that He can show them the way, instead of coming to Jesus because he IS the way. They come to Jesus, the “good teacher,” to learn about God, instead of coming to Jesus because He IS God. Help us all, Lord, to see clearly. And, in seeing clearly, help us to lead others directly to You. Amen.