Grace and Peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus
Mark 10:17 “And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18 And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’ 19 You know the commandments, “DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.”’ 20 And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ 21 And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ 22 But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.’”
“Good teacher,” the young rich man asked, “what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The words come from a young man has just exerted a little effort to ask the question. He is young and very wealthy. He appears to be one of those well adjusted wealthy men. The fact that he’s concerned about his salvation tells us something about his character and his interest. He is not a strict materialists, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die kind of guy. The fact that he’s come running to Jesus to ask the question tells us that this is a religious man who really cares about what God and men think of him.
To the disciples probably see this outsider in a favorable light. After all, who would object to adding a well-to-do man to the congregation. There would be a lot of benefits to having such a man as one of the folk, especially when the pocket book was a bit empty. He also appears to have his act together. He appears to be the kind of guy who would volunteer to serve on committees.
And in light of signs of decreasing popularity and declining crowds, new blood might be just the ticket. It had been a rough couple of weeks for the disciples. There was the debacle after the feeding of the 5,000, when many disciples left. Then problems over healings and the casting out of demons. And all the talk about being crucified.
But here’s a nice change: A young, rich, intelligent guy has appeared, who wants to be a disciple. Confirm him and put him and his money to work in the church. Sounds like a plan.
But then Jesus has to mess the whole thing up? Things don’t go as expected. “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” From the get go, there is a problem. The question he is all wrong. The man is steeped in self righteousness and do ‘gooderism.’ He assumes salvation is a product of his work.
When most preach on this text, they will talk mostly about the sin of greed. After all Jesus will say something about rich men and the eye of the needle in next week’s reading. A temperature is the sign of an illness in the body. So also also greed and gossip and such is a sign of a greater illness.
The rich man is asking how much of God’s Law does he have to keep and what kind of extra credit is out there to get in order to earn his way into heaven.
The man is sincere. He is zealous. Well intentioned. Jesus replies. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’”
The man wants to make his way by way of the Law is given his hearts desire. The answer is surprisingly simple. Just keep the Ten Commandments.
But the preaching of the Law only leaves the man smug. He thinks of himself as a honorable, law abiding man, and a man of the Law. The same way St. Paul did before His Damascus encounter. “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
Good intentioned, law abiding, zealous, potentially good church member has but on flaw. He is self-diluted. He looks into the mirror of the law and can’t see himself. So Jesus pressed the point , preaches one more bit of Law:”One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
This time, the man sees how the Law accuses him, and it crushes him. Jesus has just pointed out to him his sin. And the rich young man sees now that he is not what he thought he was – namely a deeply devout follower of God and a man who is willing to do all necessary to please God. He now feels his sin.
What sin is that, exactly? The sin our Lord condemns here is not wealth; Jesus is not preaching a sermon against the evils of being rich. Bible stories like this one have been used to declare that wealth is innately sinful; therefore, for instance, in Luther’s time it was considered a great work to sell all and make a vow of poverty, for poverty was considered to be more pleasing to God. But this is not what the Lord is saying.
Granted, wealth has its dangers as does the lack of wealth. There is greed at play here, but the greed is not the big problem. There is a far more dangerous sin at work.
The greater sin is this: The man thinks that he can save himself by how well he works at keeping God’s commands. He believes that he can work his way into heaven by being good enough. When Jesus lists several commands, the man is delighted because he can tick them off and say, “I’ve kept them! I’m on track!” But then the Lord says, “If you are so virtuous that you can keep all of God’s
commandments, then act accordingly. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
And if you Love the Lord God with everything you are and your neighbor right behind God, then giving away that which belongs to you should be an easy thing. Thus the Lord shows the man that he has now broken the list of commands Jesus has just summarized for you. The Lord destroys both the man’s own self image and his idea of salvation.
The rich young man is bitten by the Law. Jesus does so in order that the man might be saved; “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” “Come follow Me.”
It is of course essential to understand the invitation, “Come follow Me” is a call to abandoned self and works righteousness and to simply trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In that invitation Jesus is saying, “You can’t save yourself. But I will save you by going to the cross and dying for your sin. Do not trust in your own efforts, but in mine. I will share my cross with you, so that you do not have to suffer and die for your sin. You can’t save yourself. But I can.”
In more than one church, the answer is that you must do good works in order to inherit eternal life. Keep all the commandments, at least as well as you can, and the Lord will graciously open the gates of heaven. This is a popular doctrine among individuals:
Some times the work righteousness approach is just right up front, in full view of everyone. But sometimes this the idea is more subtle. “Now that Jesus has saved me, what must I do to keep that salvation?” This starts out well-it credits Jesus with our salvation. But it goes on to assume that we build our faith and keep our salvation by the works that we do. Hence, many a church will teach, “Now that you are saved, you can be sure you’ve maintained your salvation if you help others.” Or, “Now that you are a Christian, you can be sure you are saved as long as you’re improving.” Or, “Now that you are a Christian, you can be sure you are saved as long as you feel better than you did before.”
Whenever we ask, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”, the answer from the Lord is this: “You can’t. ‘With men it is impossible…'” “…But not with God; for with God all things are possible.” There is an answer and there is salvation, but it’s an answer to a different question.
The question is not “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” The question is, “What has the Lord done to give me eternal life?”
The rich young ruler wasn’t what he thought he was after all. There is only One who is good and ironically the young man calls Jesus by his proper name, “Good Teacher,” the young man says.
Jesus is the Only One who is good. Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except One, namely, God.” And that is just who he was. God is merciful to sinners like us. He saved us and that was no easy task. It would have been easier to make a camel go through the eye of the needle. For with God nothing is impossible.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.