What Must I Do? (Mark 10: 17-31)
June 28, 2012
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
There. Right at the beginning of the encounter, the character better known as the 'rich man' has set himself up for a lesson he shall not soon forget. ‘What must I do?’
What must I do to have God's favor? What must I do to have God's grace? How must I perform? Give me the list? I've got my own list. Does it match up with your list, Jesus? Validate me. Tell me I'm doing enough to make it. Tell me if I need to add anything, because I'll do it.
He knew Jesus had the answer, but he didn't know correct question. You see, the Jewish people of the day were law-keepers, in accordance with thousands of years of tradition, and were instructed by religious leaders who insisted on perfect behavior as a means to God.
With this in mind, I think Jesus looks a bit cruel, here. Instead of giving grace, he increases the burden of the man’s own misconception of God. ‘Do more’, he says.
But, there's nothing new here. God had been doing this exact same thing since that fateful day at Sinai. When the people said they could do all He asked of them, He provided them with an impossible standard of righteousness--the 10 Commandments. But for what purpose? Why does God give impossible tasks? Is he cruel?
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
And that leads us to the grace of this lesson. Yes, God's grace is found right here, in this seemingly cruel moment of clarity. Only one thing will free this man: being crushed beneath a burden of self-righteousness. For, when we come to the end of ourselves and find out that perfectionism is impossible (and stupid—but that’s another post), we will finally be ready to approach Jesus differently. He is not a man with answers. He is the answer.
So, here’s the burning question: Should this guy go ahead and give away all his possessions?
I don't think so. It would be a far more painful way to learn the lesson of grace. But, it might be necessary.
In any case, Jesus' response is brilliant, full of grace, and will lead the man to the answer he seeks.