As he 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; Honor 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!” (Mark 10:17-23)
This is one of the first biblical texts I ever preached on some thirty years ago. It still challenges me all these years later. Like many texts in the Bible, it yields fresh insight with each new reading.
The question posed by the rich young ruler to Jesus is an interesting one, isn't it? "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Here was a young man who had probably inherited at least some of his wealth from his earthly father. So he comes to Jesus, as a respected teacher, wanting to know how he can inherit something even more important--eternal life. There is hardly a more important question than this one, is there?
Yet, Jesus counters this young man's question with another question: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." It's as though Jesus is saying to this young man something that parents and teachers often say to us when we are young: "Think what you are saying!" There are many things we say without thinking, and some of those things we say reveal what is deep in our hearts; sometimes the things we say without thinking reveal deep truth. So it is in this case. Jesus challenges this young man to realize that if he is calling Jesus good then he is saying that Jesus is God.
Jesus, as the divine Son of God, seems to know exactly where this young man needs to be challenged in his life. Jesus knows exactly what this young man needs to hear. Jesus point this young man back to the Ten Commandments as a rule for life.
But is it not interesting that Jesus mentions only those commandments that have to do with our relations with our fellow human beings? The young man's response to Jesus' statements is to insist that he has kept these commandments all his life. But Jesus' statement and the young man's answer beg the questions: "What is this young man's relationship to God? If Jesus had asked this young man about the first four of the ten commandments, what would this rich young ruler have answered?"
After this young man says he has kept these commandments we hear the most important words in this text: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him."
Can you imagine Jesus looking at you and loving you today? That is, I believe, the most important picture we need to keep in our minds at all times: Jesus looking at us and loving us.
In his perfect knowledge and love of this young man, Jesus knew that there was one thing that was getting in the way of his relationship with God. In the case of this young man, that one thing was his tremendous wealth. Thus, Jesus tells him to get rid of this one thing, give away his wealth to the poor, "and come follow me".
When this young man heard Jesus' invitation, he was shocked, and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. The Gospels do not tell us what this young man did in the end. But the story begs yet another question: "What is getting in the way of our relationship with God?" And are we willing to give up that thing, or that person, or whatever it is, so that we can more effectively follow Jesus?