Today’s reading: Luke 18:18-43
In today’s reading is one of Jesus’ most startling responses. Jesus is asked by someone how to inherit eternal life:
An official asked him this question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
It is striking because at first glance it seems as if Jesus is saying that He is not good. However, this is one of those situations where we must step back from our first impression and examine the verse more closely. Jesus is saying that God is good and we know that Jesus is God. Therefore, we can recognize that Jesus is confirming his goodness, albeit in a roundabout way. What then is the reason that Jesus takes this circuitous route?
As usual, the explanation can be found in the following verses. Jesus tells the man to keep the commandments. The man replies, “All of these I have observed from my youth.”
Then we get Jesus’ response to this assertion:
When Jesus heard this he said to him, “There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich.
This man thought he was good but Jesus challenges to do more. This is the same lesson we have read the last two days. First, when Jesus told the story of the worker in the fields who when he comes in from the day’s labor still has to prepare food for the master. Second, when the Pharisee, who kept the commandments, fasted, and tithed but compared himself to the tax collector. In all three cases, the person has done what is required but they have not gone farther into being generous. Here, Jesus is challenging the man to embrace generosity.
Jesus uses the “no one is good but God alone” nomenclature for two reasons. First, it causes the man to react impulsively and emotionally with a, “but I am good” response. This allows Jesus to challenge him with a response that amounts to, “are you really that good? Have you given away all your money?”. The second, more theological reason is that Jesus is reminding us that everything good comes from God. Therefore, what he teaches and gives us will also be good.
Tomorrow: Luke 19:1-27