July 17, 2016: Jesus: Why do you ask me what is good?

Posted on : Jul 14th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Do you think Jesus was serious when he answered a question asked in earnest with this question: “Why do you ask me about what is good?”

Hello, Jesus? If anyone knows about “what is good,” it would be you, correct?

However, before we jump on Jesus, it might be helpful for us to think about the context in which Jesus responds to this question.

First, a young man full of questions, as so many young folk are, approaches Jesus and asks him what appears to be a really serious religious question: “Teacher (rabbi), what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” This story is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel, and a similar story is found in John’s Gospel (the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark of night) which tells us it is an important story for our faith. Instead of providing an answer to the young man’s question, Jesus offers the man a different question: “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Then Jesus responds to the man with the traditional answer of his community of faith: keep the commandments.   The young man replies, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”

So here’s an interesting observation. The young man is obviously pretty religious or devout. He follows all the rules but he still does not feel like his life is complete. He does not feel like he is living in “eternal life.” Often we in the Christian tradition think of eternal life as that which comes after our death, but that is not how Jesus or his Jewish followers believed. They believed eternal life was the experience of life on earth that had everlasting/divine/deeply spiritual value. That is what this conversation is about.

So, Jesus challenges the young man a little more and says, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the questioning young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Giving up or letting go is hard spiritual work, isn’t it?

However, it was not just the young man that was grieved; even Jesus’ disciples were grieved. Seeing their angst, Jesus reinforced a previous, difficult teaching: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The story concludes: when the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”

What’s up here? At the time in which Jesus lived, and if we are honest about it the same holds true today, people believed that wealth was seen as God’s blessing or goodness. It was commonly taught and believed that rich people were blessed by God and therefore they had a more divine or blessed life. In other words, they had “the good life!” Jesus challenges this belief about wealth and blessedness.

In spite of the fact that almost everyone can quote the adage, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” there is a problem with this story. The story is not about the impossible – trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle. The story is about how this can happen. That “how” has a very humorous, yet refreshingly-real aspect to it.

 

Camel vs Needle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessings,

Dan

PS: I have no idea what the translation of the Arabic captions are in this cartoon, but whatever they are, ignore them! It’s the picture that is worth a thousand words.

 

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 19: 16-26

Jesus asks: “Why do you ask me what is good?”

Then someone came to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’

The questioner asked, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

The questioner said to Jesus, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’

Jesus answered, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

The questioner was a young man and when he heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

 

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