Why do you ask me concerning what is good? There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life…. Why do you ask me concerning what is good?
Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
So here we start with the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he has to do to live forever, presumably in heaven. Here’s how it starts:
Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.”
“What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 19:16-19)
The man asks what “good thing” he do to get eternal life. He wants to know the formula, crack the code. He’s hoping Jesus will give him some little task that will give him control over his eternal destiny. Some kind of magic words like “Open Sesame” or something. Kind of like when they invite you to the altar to “confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior” in certain kinds of churches and then they tell you that having said those words you are assured of eternal life. Kind of like that.
Instead, Jesus says that “there is only One who is good.” He’s saying there isn’t any specific “good thing” that’s good enough to get you into heaven. The way to eternal life, Jesus says, is a lifetime of faithful obedience to God’s commandments. Notice that all of the commandments that Jesus specifically list are relational ones – “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Notice that he does not list any dietary, sexual, or sacrificial laws. Jesus only lists the ones that will lead you to a life of harmony and peace with those around you. The commandments he lists are the ones that promote love and kindness.
The fact that Jesus says that there is no good deed, no magic words, no sacrificial act, no creed, no belief that will get you into heaven isn’t what the rich man wanted to hear. In fact, it’s something people still don’t want to accept. Hmmm….For example, look at how John 3:16 took off in the 1970s – “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There are lots of churches, lots of Christians that base their whole theology on these words of John – the words of John’s blog. But the words of Jesus say something very different. Belief is not enough. The only thing that matters is love – certainly not the only instance where the actual words spoken by Jesus are very different from the words that are later spoken about Jesus by others. Apparently John and Jesus weren’t on the same page. I’d rather go with Jesus. A lot of the things John says are a little strange. In my opinion John is an example of the old adage that you can be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.
So tomorrow Jesus actually challenges the man a task to help him with his spiritual growth, but it’s not very well received. Come back tomorrow for the rest of the story.
I will end with a little Jewish humor. When I was looking at websites for synagogues in our old neighborhood in Chicago I ran into this. It’s pretty appropriate, I think. Enjoy.
In case you can’t read it:
L: Tonight we talk about entering the world to come.
R: What is the first thing you have to do?
L :The great rabbis say we must keep all the commandments.
R: Always a good idea but it’s not the key.
L: You could fill your life with charity and acts of good will.
R: Wonderful way to live, but not an inch closer to heaven.
L: So what do you have to do to get to the Promised Land?
R: First you got to be dead.
What does this scripture say to you?