17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must 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, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22–ESV)
He might look saved
See how the man whom we know as the Rich Young Ruler arrived? He came running as Jesus was leaving. He fell down or knelt before Jesus. This young, rich fellow saw in Jesus the answer for eternal life. He properly understood Jesus as being benevolent, good and as a teacher of people. In short, this man held right ideas about Jesus, about God. From verse 20 it can be seen that he had a character of righteousness. His actions mirrored the law of Moses.1
If we had been alive back then and would have sat back and thought about this man’s life we would likely conclude him to be on the right track. He looked saved according to the traditions then in vogue, but was yet quite concerned. Those on the outside looking in would be confident for this man. This man, however, looking around inside of himself did not have confidence.
He had placed a confidence in the law, but was anxious over whether or not that was sufficient. As such he came rushing up in an undignified manner to the departing Jesus humbling himself for answers. This man lacked confidence for eternity, and hope that Jesus might alleviate them.
WD-40 penetrates. So do the questions of Christ.
The man arrived with a rush, a suddenness. He did not beat around the bush, but got immediately to his anxieties. In the midst of the bustle of his arrival and the pause it caused he called Jesus good. That hurried arrival did not disconcert Jesus’ mind as he was departing. Jesus understood the man’s needs and the question that was asked.
The man wasted no time offering up his question and neither did Jesus in raising another one. Jesus first asked the man why he had used the word good in his greeting. That word meant always and in every way benevolent. Allowing for no reply Jesus said that no one is benevolent, but God.
The issue behind this question was fundamental to the manner in which the young man will hear the next words of Christ. In essence, Jesus was asking questions like the following.
- Do you realize that the goodness with which you label me is something that is only possessed by God?
- Do you just recognize me as one closer to God than yourself?
- Are you acknowledging me as God?
Right at the beginning of their interaction the fundamentals shifted for this rich, spiritually hungry young fellow.
Jesus puts this man back a bit by asking him whether he views Jesus as God or a colleague. If the former then there is hope. If the later there is none. Jesus is not merely a spiritual sensei who having traveled the path already can guide away from pitfalls and toward another level. Jesus is God.
In my entry on Mark 11 I posit that the triumphal entry of Christ was an anchor that made limited sense at the time, but more and more sense as things unfolded. I think that this young fellow, a spiritual worrier, received an anchor from Jesus. This man would go back and think and wonder and ponder upon the words Jesus used. We know he left sad, but that does not mean he left forever.
Jesus cherry picks the Ten Commandments
Having laid the first brick in this new outlook Jesus moved on to specific commandments. Notice which commandments Jesus brings to the discussion. The ones brought to this fellow were not the man-God commandments2, but only the man-man commandments3. Was this merciful as a result of Jesus knowing the man’s answer? The man could answer truthfully about the adultery, love for parents and love for neighbors.
The commandments like no other gods before me, though, he could not answer truthfully for he was mired in his money. He was anxious for his soul or he would not have come rushing up at the last minute behaving as he did. The problem was that he had not even made it to first base. He was not rightly related to God. Right relationships to man are good, but insufficient. God must be first.
The issue that this man has with his soul lies not with man, but with God. He is rightly related to man, it seems. He is not rightly related to God.
Jesus then picks the cherry of his wealth
There was a thing in the way of this man’s relationship to God. It was his wealth. This man’s money was blocking his obedience to the first and second commandments. Commandment 1: No other gods. Commandment 2: No idols. There is little doubt that had Jesus included all 10 commandments this fellow would have attested to having been in compliance with all. By skipping the most crucial of them Jesus set him in mind to recognize where the wealth was. The money was in the way.
This fellow went away sad, but with a lot of food for thought.
Don’t assume this fellow is in hell
It is rather typical, I think, to figure this interaction with Jesus was the end of it all for this fellow. Since he went away sad we presume he stayed sad and stayed away. That is not necessarily so for this fellow was one blessed by anxiety over his soul. He would not likely have just discarded Christ’s words forgetting them forever. It is much more likely that he remembered the event with a great poignancy. Somewhere downstream from this event the eternal conclusion and destiny for him was had. What his choice was we can only speculate.
Consider the disciples and their interactions with Jesus in the moments leading up to the arrival of this man. What had they been doing? They had been blocking access of children to Jesus. They got rebuked for their own tendency to prestige and spiritual compartmentalism. All but one of the 12 are in heaven. If the disciples were treated with compassion and patience why would this man be afforded any less grace? The bottom line is that we know the character of God. We know that Jesus was God and that God alone is benevolent. How this man’s life concluded we do not know. I found one resource online suggesting that he was actually Barnabas. Eternal life is like a good book. Someday we will know, now we can only keep on reading.