“No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10.18) “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing….’” (Mark 10.21)
Mark tells the story of a rich man coming to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. On the surface it appears the man is sincere and genuinely interested in what he has heard from Jesus. A tension develops in the story, however, as it is revealed that the man is merely seeking approval for what he has already accomplished in life. After hearing Jesus talk about the commandments, the man says, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” When Jesus wants the rich man to go deeper and consider acts of generosity with his resources, the man walks away unwilling to look at the ways in which he is being called to grow.
“How am I doing, God? Is this good? I’m trying very hard down here and sure hope you’re noticing. Isn’t this what you want me to be doing?”
Most of us are guilty of seeking God’s approval. We seem more interested in gaining some affirmation of what we have done than we are in considering the ways in which we are called to grow. We equate entrance into the kingdom of God with being judged acceptable. Those who get in are doing it right. Those who don’t get in have it wrong. Surely the kingdom involves a bit more than that shallow approach.
Jesus begins his teaching in this passage with the reminder that no one is good but God alone. “Am I okay the way I am God?” Well, actually, you’re not good the way you are. No one is. Perhaps you’ve noticed that God never says, “Now you’ve got it; just stay right where you are and everything will be fine.” No, God always has areas of growth for us. The kingdom is not a place of comfortable arrival. The kingdom is a place of continued formation. Only God is “there.” The rest of us must grow, eternally, because we’re not God.
Jesus asks this growth of the rich man, not to see how he’ll measure up but because he loves him. The love of Christ penetrates our being, sees into our great potential, draws us forward in our pilgrimage, identifies the areas where are lacking, and moves us toward wholeness, if we are willing to follow.
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10.24) It’s not easy entering the kingdom, Jesus teaches. It’s not impossible because God is doing the greater work but it involves some work from us too. Maybe we think God is looking at what we are already doing to issue some approval in the form of admittance to the kingdom. This story seems to suggest, however, that the work really only begins as we accept the invitation into the kingdom. All are invited, all we sinners, into the kingdom of God. Then God seeks to heal us, save us, and make us whole through grace and growth.
The kingdom isn’t a checklist of who is good. No one is good. Yet God invites us to grow in grace. Accept the invitation. Look into the areas God assigns you for growth. That difficult work is the kingdom you seek.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.