Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “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.” (Matthew 19:16-17 NRSV)
I have heard stories from teachers who are passionate about the subjects they teach. They strive to help students thoroughly understand and appreciate the topic. These teachers share their lessons with enthusiasm and joy, hoping that their students will become interested and excited about the subject, too. Then the humbling reality of indifference is revealed when the question is asked, “Is this going to be on the test?” The student only wants to know what it will take to get by- to pass the class.
Perhaps Jesus felt this way, too. Jesus was calling people to follow him. He was changing lives and healing and forgiving and teaching. Jesus was inviting people to a completely new way of living in the love of God. Then, this man approaches Jesus with a similar question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Is this going to be on the test? What is the one thing I need to know? The man disregards all of the incredible gifts of life in Christ, searching only for what he would need to get into heaven.
Jesus asks him a question in response. “Why do you ask me about what is good?”
Doing what is good has nothing to do with gaining eternal life; it is our grateful response to the salvation that has been already given us. Jesus continues: “There is only one who is good.” The One who IS good has everything to do with eternal life. Eternal life is not about what we do, but about the One who is. Our salvation is here for us now, to be experienced, appreciated and relished in this present moment, through the life and love of Christ.
But then Jesus concludes with this simple direction: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” I wonder if Jesus is giving the man a place to begin. Keeping the commandments isn’t the key to eternal life, but doing so will help the man “enter into life.” Jesus is offering the man a starting point for living his life in Christ. Trying to keep the commandments will help this man (and all of us) begin to notice how much God’s grace and forgiveness are needed, provide basic guidelines for faithful and obedient living, and initiate the process of maturity and perfection.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus is asking, “Why do you ask me about what is good?”
Are you embracing the life in Christ with your heart and soul? Are you experiencing all that Jesus has to offer? What might you be missing as you try to glean just the basics in an effort to get by? Is there a particular commandment for you to consider as a guideline for obedience today? Do you appreciate that your salvation and abundant life- now and forever- are not dependent on YOU? But what might you do to embrace and experience even more of the life Jesus offers?
Why do you ask me about what is good?