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The Bridge

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother." ' He said to him, 'Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.' Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!' And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.' They were greatly astounded and said to one another, 'Then who can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.' (Mark 10:17-27) 
To me, this is one of the most fascinating encounters in the Gospels between Jesus and another person. In this account there is a man who approaches Jesus in haste, thinking that if he waits another moment his opportunity may be lost and Jesus will be gone to another city. Dispensing formality, the man rifles his question at Jesus, even as he is running, then kneeling, before him: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

This man runs to Jesus with keen anticipation. He kneels before Jesus in recognition of his greatness. This man has some idea that Jesus will be able to help him. He recognizes Jesus as a good teacher, but he fails to realize the full significance of that goodness.

Jesus responds to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." Jesus presses this man to realize to whom he is speaking. I think Jesus is, in effect, saying to this man, "If you call me good then you are saying that I am God."

C. S. Lewis' most oft-quoted paragraph fits in here....

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. you can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. he has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity)
Leaving this point aside, let us move on and see what else happens in this encounter. . . . 

Jesus reminds the man of the commandments. However, Jesus only mentions those commandments that have to do with a person's relationships with his fellow human beings. Jesus does not speak of the first four commandments that have to do with a person's relationship with God. Jesus reminds this man of the commands that he is keeping, and it makes the man all the more aware of what he lacks.

This man had been moral all his life. So far as he knew, he had never done anything to hurt anyone. He had an outward obedience that exemplified a life of steadfast deliberation and determined discipline . . . but he was alone. You might say this man had been to the bridge called religion. He had ventured out as far as that bridge would take him, and he found that religion cannot bridge the gap between human beings and God, the gap that is created by sin. He had gone all the way out to the end of his religion and read the sign: "Bridge Out". He had looked down to the immeasurable depths below him and knew that he had to turn back and find another way. 

Thornton Wilder once wrote,

There is a land of the living
and a land of the dead
and the bridge is Love,
the only survival
and the only meaning.

This man in Mark 10 came to Jesus asking him how he might get from the land of the dead into the land of the living. He knelt before Jesus of Nazareth yet . . . he did not fully comprehend that this Jesus was the Lord of all creation, the bridge to the land of the living.

Jesus looked upon this man and loved him. He looked straight through to the core of this man kneeling before him. Jesus knew the man's need, and he knew just how to fill that need. Thus, Jesus invited him saying, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me."

I think, in essence, Jesus was telling this man that to cross the bridge into eternal life he would have to remove all of his excess baggage. The bridge to eternal life is narrow; if we try to cross it and still hold on to all our good works, all our religion, all our possessions, then we won't make it. We will be blown off the bridge and go crashing to the bottom with the first little gust of wind. We must cross the bridge of Christ without baggage. Any excess weight will make us unstable and the journey will then be impossible. This man had excess. He had great possessions. And those possessions kept him from stepping out on to Jesus. He didn't want to let go of those things that seemed so important to him, even at the expense of life itself.

In a sense, this story is the tale of every person who has ever lived, or ever will live. I believe every person will receive an opportunity to meet Jesus, to decide for or against Christ, just as this man did. The question is: will we be ready for that encounter when it comes? Will we allow our excess baggage, whatever that baggage is, to keep us from crossing the bridge to eternal life? Or will we, realizing that Jesus looks at us and loves us, surrender our lives to him? That surrender may seem, on most days, quite impossible to us. But that is where we must remember that with God all things are possible. . . .

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