What Is Good?

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “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 COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'”  And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  (Luke 18:18-21 NASB)

The beginning of this conversation always sort of amused me.  First off, some “ruler” comes to Jesus.  Ruler of what?  The word used is “archon” which can mean chief or leader of just about anything.  Luke wants us to know this guy is the chief or head of something, but what isn’t important.  In Matthew and Mark he’s also an “archon”, but in Matthew he’s also young, which would exclude him from being the head of some family.  So we don’t know what he leads, but he’s a recognized leader, that detail remained in tact.

Second, he asks about inheriting eternal life.  Why is that a quality we can inherit?  The word-choice carries an understanding that this eternal life is something that one gains by association.  But the leader asks what he must do, as opposed to who he should associate with.  It’s a weird way to word the question, yet that detail remains consistent in all three as well.  Shouldn’t he ask, “Who do I inherit eternal life from?”  And yet I think the answer to that is obvious, we would only get that from God.  So, the doing he asks about has to do with doing something to gain and maintain that association with God.

Thirdly, Jesus questions the man’s reference to Him as “good”.  I thought that was strange because Jesus doesn’t disagree, He questions the ruler about what he meant?  No one is good but God alone.  Is Jesus asking the ruler if he believes Jesus is God?  If he is, why doesn’t He allow him an opportunity to respond?  It’s as if the question is really for those hearing.  Maybe they wondered that themselves, or maybe they saw that as the expected humble response of a responsible Teacher.  Either way or another, Jesus doesn’t wait for a response.  He moves on, and so will I.

Jesus then states that the ruler already knows the answer, and cites the law.  In each Gospel, Jesus cites a different numbers of laws.  Luke has the fewest, but all of his are included in the other two.  Matthew cites the most, and all of Marks are in his list. Even so, the difference amounts to two laws, one of which Mark seems to have invented (do not defraud).  So, why, if Jesus knows that the law won’t bring the guy eternal life, does He cite the law?  It seems weird to me that Jesus would tell a religious leader at night to be born again to enter into the Kingdom, yet tells this guy to follow the law to inherit eternal life.

But here again, I think Jesus may be speaking to be heard by more than just this leader.  The leader has done these from his youth.  So why is he still thinking he isn’t going to inherit eternal life?  Or is he looking for Jesus to give him a stamp of approval?  Or is he looking for more adulation from the people?  Or is he really, in his gut, pretty sure something is missing, even with the obedience?   That would play more into Jesus’ teaching that the law doesn’t save, He does.

So why would Jesus take this guy through this route?  I’ve always wondered that. With Nicodemus Jesus cuts right to the end, “You must be born again.”  But with this guy, Jesus meanders around “good”, and through legal issues before arriving at the core issue.  Was it for the crowd to hear?  Was it so this guy could travel the road he’d traveled so much already and yet found wanting?  Was it for Jesus’ disciples?  Why take this route at this time?  Maybe it was the cut of the leader’s clothes, the quality of the sash, the colors of his turban.  Maybe the army of sycophants surrounding the leader, hanging on his every word.

I think that everyone present knew this leader.  And I think everyone present were not surprised by the man’s claim he had done all the law from his youth.  I think that Jesus walked him down this road for the crowd and so he wouldn’t have an out.  The point hasn’t been reached yet, and the point will be the shocker Jesus pulls out about camels and needles.  But it has to be settled first that the law isn’t a sufficient path, that God is good, and that Jesus is He.

That’s my view through this part of a knothole.  What’s your view?  Why this path with this guy at this point in Jesus’ ministry?



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