As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 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 will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. Mark 10:17-22
He put off approaching Jesus with his burning question, but now the “good teacher” was leaving and he had to act fast.
The man had amassed a fortune but lacked the capability to obtain eternal life. There are some things money can’t buy. It’s interesting that he seemed to inherently know that eternal life could not be bought, only inherited.
But there must be something, a task, he could do to get it! He’d soon find out what it was–in his case.
But first things first.
He did not know who he was talking to. The “teacher” part was true, but adding “good” to it was not.
“Good” could only be ascribed to God himself, Jesus said. While on earth, Jesus did not appropriate his rightful stature as King of kings but sought after God as we all do. The next time the man addressed him (in v. 20) he surely dropped the “good!”
As an aside, in the man’s world, you do this kind of schmoozing. It didn’t work with Jesus.
I’ve always read the list of commandments Jesus threw out as prerequisites and regarded the man’s self-assessment of having “kept all these from my youth up” as a bit self-aggrandizing. But on closer inspection, it was possible to run the table on these, if you leave aside Jesus’ clarifications in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:28), and Paul’s writings (Eph. 4:28). Under the law, the man could pretty much safely say he had done all these things if he truly did.
There’s a good chance the Lord agreed with the man’s assessment as he “felt love toward him.” This was agape love by the way. So, he told him what he had to do. He answered his question. Sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. This, mind you, was in exchange for eternal life, no less. It sounds like a good deal in my book. But the man couldn’t do it. His countenance fell from giddy to gloomy, and he turned and walked away.
It’s not that he couldn’t, but he wouldn’t.
In this story is some important theology, the God part of Jesus knew upfront whether the man was in or out. Yet he felt love for him despite knowing what his reaction would be.
With everyone, the statement “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” is true. John 3:16
He gives all the chance to exercise his endowment of free will in answering “yes” to the question about eternal life. It’s a mystery how this all works, so don’t think for a moment that you’ve got enough to come down on one side or another, that is, whether he chose us, or we choose him. Both answers are correct.
In this case, the man could have done what he asked and inherited eternal life on the spot, but he didn’t! Remember James and John and Peter and Andrew did. Mathew did. Zacchaeus did. And many, many after them.
The issue is not, do we have to sell all to obtain our salvation. No. Here, as always, it boils down to possessing the modicum of faith to accept Jesus’ standing offer regardless of the worldly costs. Behind this faith is the trust that what is offered is far greater than worldly things, and that the giver can deliver what he’s promised.
Where this kind of faith comes from could only be God, and he is indeed “good.”