The Essence of Eternal Life
Feb 1, 2010 1972
‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Mark 10:17).
In the developed world, wealth, power and prestige are the secular holy trinity; the good to be sought and prized above all else. The degree at which these are achieved is the true gauge of success, but it is conflicted success. Those who manage their attainment in large proportions offer scant evidence that they are more fulfilled than anyone else. The media scrutinises their often angst-ridden lives; documenting the fact, that in human terms, they have not really made it at all.
Furthermore, this phenomenon is made even more remarkable, in that the ‘unsuccessful’ who have none of these prizes, to a large extent ignore the lessons of the failure of the rich and famous. They continue to believe that if they only had what the ‘bold and the beautiful’ have, they would be truly content.
The man who questions Jesus is someone, who, by the standards of his society, is in every way successful. He is devout; he observes all the solemnities and respects the conventions. He is upright and decent. He belongs to a society where it is accepted that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Since wealth is God’s gift, the rich must be close to God. This man is rich. Yet, despite ticking all the right boxes within his social matrix, he is not satisfied.
The man’s question betrays a lurking uneasiness. For him life is not all it could, or should be. Successful and respected though he is, he is not completely secure in himself. Despite an implicit admission of inadequacy: ‘What must I do’, he believes that whatever it is that is missing from his life he will be able to supply; he just needs to be told what it is. He sees Jesus as a good man who will not begrudge some advice to another good man. ‘Good teacher,’ he says.
But Jesus replies with an unexpected question, ‘Why do you call me good … no one is good except God alone.’ The man wants an answer to a question, but Jesus responds to the questioner; shining the bright light of his great personality on him, rebuking his glib notions of goodness. No one can lightly call Jesus good. His goodness is either God’s goodness, or a sham and a lie. Jesus gently prompts the inquirer to think more on who he is addressing. He seeks to draw him onward from the good with which he is familiar, to goodness in God’s terms. Why do you call me good?
The man thought to get something from Jesus which he could use to fill the void in his life, but he needed more than good advice, he needed Jesus himself.
So it was, so it is still. Those who are less than satisfied with material and social success in today’s world will not be able to ‘get’ something from Jesus to make them feel better. Better to just ‘follow’ him. That’s what Jesus invited the rich man to do.
He didn’t accept; he chose to walk away sad. May Jesus Christ be worth more to you than any other ‘good’ on offer.