Jesus is constantly inviting people to follow him, but never seems to force himself upon folks. Think of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17 – 24. Jesus had just finished blessing a group of children, much to the consternation of the disciples – children were not valued deeply in Israelite society – when a young ruler runs up to Jesus and falls to his knees. I can see the dust flying. In all likelihood, this young man was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of Israel. He was a distinguished person, probably well-known among the people viewing this dramatic scene. And yet the young man willingly, publicly humiliates himself in his eagerness to talk to Jesus, to receive Jesus’ approval, to be in relationship with Jesus, to discover whether in the eyes of Jesus he has obeyed the covenant stipulations of Israel well. 

Simply put, Jewish men did not run publicly in Israelite society. To do so was to cast public decorum to the wind, to embarrass oneself, to act like a child. Yet here we have a young religious man, not only running in public, but kneeling in full view of his neighbors before Jesus. Before the dust has settled, the young man politely, sincerely asks, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) It’s a good question. What could be more important to know? Specifically in this man’s case, he desires to know whether he has obeyed the covenant stipulations of Israel well, particularly as they are found in the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Rather than responding to the young ruler’s question, though, Jesus responds with a question of his own. Jesus is always doing this to people and it’s enough to drive one crazy. Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.” Can you see the look on the young man’s face? On the faces of those observing the scene? 

I can easily imagine the young ruler thinking to himself (as he struggles to come up with the right response): What? A theology question? What does he want me to say? What am I not getting? Why am I calling you good’? Because I’ve been watching you. I’ve been listening to you. I’ve seen what you’ve done. You are a great teacher, a compassionate man, a well-known rabbi. I need your help. I need your insight. I need your approval.” And the whole time – possibly just a few seconds – Jesus watches. Perhaps Jesus is saying to himself as he watches the young man’s face and those surrounding him, Do you really know who you are dealing with? Do you understand who I am? Do you understand who the God of Israel is?”

It’s interesting to note that we are never told in Mark’s account of this encounter – nor in that of Matthew or Luke – that the young man ever answered this initial question of Jesus. It is as though it is left hanging in the air. Instead, Jesus moves on very quickly to the central matter at hand, that of the covenant stipulations and whether this young man had obeyed the Law well. Should the rich, young ruler expect to enter the life of the age to come?

Continued next week

You can catch up with all of Chris’s posts at Conversations with Chris.”