Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Riches and goodness

Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." - Mark 10:18

This statement is a prelude for Jesus' teaching to the rich young man. The young man comes to Jesus and asks, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Some have said that Jesus is repudiating the young man for calling him good, but I think that what Jesus is doing is subtly telling him something different.

When Jesus spoke, he spoke with authority. He did not teach superficially but taught with the fullest possible meaning to his words. On the surface it would appear that this scripture verse would repudiate the long held Tradition that Jesus is God in flesh. As a matter of fact, I was cornered on this by a Muslim who was at the time better versed in the gospel of St. Mark than I was, and embarrassingly I was not able to defend my belief in the divinity of Jesus with anything that was remotely convincing.

That was about ten years ago. In all honesty, I should thank Dr. Ibrahim because were it not partially for his nudging, I would not have contemplated this much, and I would still not be able to answer convincingly, and not so much for him but for myself. If I do believe in the divinity of Jesus (which I do), how do I reconcile his words addressed to the rich young man? Knowing what I do now, I wish I could go back ten years and discuss this charitably with him again.

"Why do you call me good? Only God is good." Indeed this is truth. Only God is good. But if you simply read the words on the page, you only get half of the truth that Jesus is revealing, and that is "only God is good." A little bit of contemplation will reveal the fullness of his meaning. Applying the transitive property to the discourse, what we get is this: rich young man calls Jesus good. Jesus says, "Only God is good." Therefore, Jesus is God as revealed by the rich young man. Jesus is merely posing this question: "Are you really aware of the truth you are revealing about me when you call me good? Only God is good. Do you really recognize who I am? And if you do recognize me, do you know my true nature?"

That is why Jesus presses the man further...keeping the commandments. "I have kept all of those!" the man smugly replies. Jesus then tells the man that in order to inherit eternal life, to be united with God, he must sell all of his possessions. This proves to be too difficult for the man, and he walks away sad. But this is God's justice. To be united with God means to give completely, not holding anything back.

Then Jesus makes the statement that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. The disciples are astonished and say, "Well who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." There is the counterpart to God's justice, that of God's mercy.

In this dialog we see Jesus revealing God's true nature of justice and mercy, for the reality is that we cannot do anything to inherit eternal life. We can only rely on God to be saved. So the point Jesus is making when he says, "Only God is good" is that it is only through the goodness and mercy of God that we can inherit eternal life, the goodness and mercy which is fully revealed in the passion, death and resurrection of the Son.


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