There came a man to Jesus who said to him,
…”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.” (Mark 10:17-18)
This may seem a rather abrupt challenge in view of the deferential salutation of this man. Jesus’ response may seem out of proportion compared with the serious nature of the man’s request. However, as usual, Jesus has put his finger on the crux of the matter. Either you accept my instructions because I and the Father are one and I teach with the authority of the Father (and I am, therefore, good). Or you reject what I say because you do not believe that I come from the Father. These are Jesus’ terms to the man upon which the rest of the dialog is based.
“You know the commandments,” said Jesus, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher, the man responded, [dropping the “good”], I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
…”One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:19-21)
“What must I do?” queried the keeper of Moses’ law, “I want life.” However, because he had moved away from good teacher, he lost hope that Jesus’ difficult demands were of any use.
This episode portrays the head on clash between two opposing ideas: revelation and religion. Revelation begins with a relationship with a teacher, a revealer. Religion begins in the codified precepts of the past and engages in a form of ancestor worship. Whether or not those past precepts were true revelations of the character of God is irrelevant, they cannot be the cornerstone of life. “Go sell all you possess, and give it to the poor…” is the lifeline Jesus threw to this man. To discard all your possession flew in the face of popular religion. “I am rich because God favors me. You are poor because God does not accept you” was the idolatry of the day. Jesus asked the man to sell his religion and start again from square one!
This story further demonstrates that you cannot participate in revelation and hold onto religion. Participating in revelation does not invalidate the revelation given to our predecessors, but now you have fellowship with them. You have come under the tutelage of the same teacher. Their insights now have meaning in relationship to your own openings and insights. Jesus did not discard Moses’s law, “You know the commandments…” Rather he pulled the discussion back to the first commandment:
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
The writer of the book of Hebrews poses the question: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him… (Heb. 2:3) He then continues with this theme, admonishing “If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15, and 4:7) The exchange between Jesus and the keeper of the commandments demonstrated the futility of religion. The man was conscious of a lack of life within. The writer of Hebrews calls us to revelation, to life (i.e. salvation) based upon hearing the voice of the Lord. The man went away from Jesus in sorrow because he neglected to hear the voice of the good teacher.
Jesus spoke many things by way of parables about the kingdom of heaven, including:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46)
As with the man asking what he needed to do to gain eternal life, Jesus’ instruction in these parables is sell all you have that you may buy the field containing the treasure or buy the pearl of great price. Either you recognize that this treasure is worth more than all you have or you depart in sorrow because you can’t both hold onto part of your possessions and buy the field or buy the pearl.