The guy was conscientious, the type most moms would like to see their daughter date. He was law-abiding, a man of some standing and quite successful, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to go above and beyond the rest, even when it came to the all important issue of religious things.
In that vein, he approached Jesus.
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Like so many men, this guy was all about doing. Give him a task, and he’d see to it. I suspect he was the Type A personality, the alpha male. He lived by his check list. Keep the Sabbath, check. Give to the poor, check. Do the ritual washings, check. Honor his parents, check.
Then Jesus showed up. So why not cover all his bases? Why not find out from this New Voice, this radical, authoritative teacher, what he himself might be overlooking?
So he asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I think I know what he was hoping. It’s the same sort of thought process I go through as a writer when I give someone pages to critique. If I’m honest, I would really, really like to hear them say, This is brilliant; don’t change a thing. But realistically, I expect to hear some bit of advice or insight that can help me do better. From what they say, then, I’ll go about improving.
Undoubtedly Mr. Got-It-Together was approaching Jesus the same way. Just maybe, the teacher would be complimentary — even impressed, with the very question and certainly with the long list of done-that’s he’d discover upon probing further.
But at the worst, Jesus would give him some obscure tidbit that would put him ahead of the game and would put him that much closer to assurance that he not only had it together now, but for eternity.
How surprising, then, when Jesus didn’t settle into critique mode right away. Instead he asked an odd question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Technicalities. I mean, wasn’t that question like someone today saying, Why do you call me a good editor or a good writer?
To Mr. Got-It-Together it was probably nothing more than a way of saying to Jesus, I respect your role and therefore your opinion. What you say to me matters. I want to know what you think about this subject because your view holds some sway.
Jesus, however, pulled that technicality. No one is good but God.
Sure, sure. Mr. Got-It-Together knew that. So maybe Jesus was saying, About this eternal life thing, back off from any terminology that might be construed as insincere flattery or even from any language that has the taint of the blasphemous. Quickly, the petitioner amended his reference. Teacher, I’ve kept the law …
But hadn’t Jesus already given Mr. Got-It-Together what he asked — that something he needed to inherit eternal life?
Only God is good, and God in the flesh stood in front of the man. If he could have answered, I called you good because you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, wouldn’t Jesus have gone straight to “Follow Me”?
But Mr. Got-It-Together was hung up on what he needed to do, not what he needed to believe. Hence Jesus had to show him his true heart: there was something more precious to him than eternal life, something he was unwilling to do, some quest he refused, some idol that kept him from what he said he wanted.
And the man walked away.
He didn’t like the critique he got. It wasn’t a generic rejection letter, but it was worse. He had to abandon who he was and accept who Jesus was.
He didn’t need tweaking, a little editing, better understanding of how to follow this or that rule. He didn’t even need a rewrite. He needed to sell all rights to the Good Teacher — to God who looked at him with such compassion — and to let this Good God do with his life what He would.
That, Mr. Got-It-Together just couldn’t bring himself to do.
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To read the story yourself, see Mark 10:17-22