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Perhaps I wasnt good enough, I thought. I worked toward perfection as far ahead as I could perceive it. Surely when I overcame this or achieved that, I would be good enough. Yet as God helped me to reach some distant goal, I would arrive there only to find the distance to perfection much further away. Gradually, I came to understandat least intellectuallythat following Christ would remain a sojourn to be experienced rather than a destination to be reached.
Good teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life.
Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. No one is goodexcept God alone.
The exchange in 10:17-18 makes two points about goodness not to be missed in the gospel of Mark. Number one: goodness is not a trait to be claimed by humans. Number two: obedience is not the currency with which one might purchase eternal life.
No one is goodexcept God alone.|
Three times (8:31, 9:31, 10:33) he spells out his destiny: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise (10:33). Yet after each prediction, the disciples continue to look the other way. After the first teaching, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him (8:32). After the second instruction, the whole group became inflamed and argued who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom (9:34). The final warning is barely complete (10:38) when Mark tells of the private request of James and John to be allowed to sit in the places of honor when Jesus is glorified. Three times Jesus describes the reality of Jerusalem, and three times, consumed with visions of grandeur his closest friends fail to see.
The story of the rich young man lies in the midst of contrasting visions. After correcting the mans use of good, Jesus instructs him to obey, a task the fellow claims to have done since a boy. Pleased with the mans desire to do good and the seriousness of his commitment, Jesus then gets to the essence of discipleship: Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Although many have argued the purpose and intent of the instruction, the point seems to be to throw off every burden a person might carry possessions, indulgence, occupation... and free ourselves to follow. Keeping step with Jesus requires us to travel light.
When the young man despondently retreats, Jesus warns his disciples: How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (10:23).
Amazed, the disciples ask, Who then can be saved? If perfect obedience isnt the ticket, what is? Can man hope for salvation with such poor odds?
With man this is impossible, Jesus admits, but not with God; all things are possible with God.
True to the context of the passage, the disciples also fail to grasp the deeper truths here. Like the young man, they too seek justification. We have left everything to follow you! Peter exclaims (i.e., I have done the perfect thing). To Jesus this must have seemed like instant replay. Whereas the young man sought justification through his obedience to the law, Peter seeks approval through sacrifice. While Jesus is pleased with both obedience and sacrifice,1 these attributes are not bargaining chips for salvation. Perfection lies so far over the horizon of our vision that if we determine to complete its regimen by our own efforts welike the rich young manmay be forced to walk away in failure. The mans focus was on himself. How could he be good enough? Because he could only see as far as his own goodness and determination, Jesus answer spelt d-e-f-e-a-t. He could not do what was asked of him on his own, and he did not have the faith to hear Jesus assurance to the disciples: all things are possible with God.
Why are we so blind?|
Who is good? God alone!
Though Jesus corrects the rich young ruler when he calls him good, he does so because the man has come to seek the advice of a rabbinot God. What would Jesus have said if the mans faith had allowed him to respond, I call you good for I speak with God? Would the mans decision not to follow Jesus have been different if he had believed that God himself would help him over the road once had sold all?
Had the disciples perceived the message Jesus spoke to them three times, would they have remained so focused on themselves? Had they set their minds on the cross as Jesus was calling them to do, how might the hours in the garden, during the trial, and at the cross have been different? And how about the days that followed? Having believed themselves to be worthy of exaltation, didnt the reality of their human frailty plague them with guilt, defeat, and shame?
Why are we so blind? Why is it so tempting to strive to impress God with our goodness and believe that we can in some way earn salvation? Using goodness as a foundation for a relationship with God results in shoddy construction. Using reward to measure our success is equally as dangerous. Seeking perfection through our own efforts will surely fail and frustrate, for perfection does not lie on mans horizon at all, but somewhere far removed from my striving.
Who is good? God alone!
Who then can be saved? This is impossible with man; all things are possible with God.
HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-97, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
© 1998 Karen Alexander. Used by permission.
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