Besides being a very interesting story, this Sunday’s Gospel gives rich spiritual advice for us. To put it simply, God is worth more than anything else in our lives.
Our story is about a rich young man. Whoever he was, in the Gospel “he had many possessions.” Yet he does seem to have had a good heart, some humility, and a positive opinion about Jesus.
Without warning he literally runs up to Jesus, kneels down before him, and asks the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This young man must have impressed Jesus. Yet he gives the man a seemingly incongruous reply. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
How in the world does this answer fit the question? Of course, one interpretation would be that it does not, that it is the result of an odd editing of the story at a later time. But I want to suggest a much simpler explanation.
Since Jesus already saw the seeds of faith in this man, he was trying to grow that faith. Here would be the logic of Jesus' response: (1) only God is (fully) good. (2) yet you have called me good. (3) Maybe you are sensing the Godliness in me.
We are not told of a response from the man, but we see Jesus going on to take him through the essentials.
Look, he says, you know about the commandments, don’t you, and he names six of them. He expects that the man will say yes, at which point he can lead him further in the love of God.
The man gives a wonderful answer: “teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” We know that Jesus’ heart was warmed by this answer because of the next line of the Gospel:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
Keep in mind that Mark’s is the most terse of the four Gospels, so this startling sentence reveals much about the scene. Jesus is not just announcing truths to someone or other, he is carefully building faith in someone he loves.
So he tells the rich young man, with care, what the next step is.
You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.
But, like you and me, the rich young man is not ready to go so far. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”