"Why do you call me good?" (Mark 10:18)
The question seems odd.
The rich young ruler had just asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, prefacing the question with the title "Good teacher." Instead of answering his question, Jesus replies with another question that seems to confuse the issue.
From our point of view it doesn't seem as if the question and the answer really go together. "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). And this is Jesus' answer: "Why do you call me good? No one is good-except God alone" (Mark 10:18). That statement has caused some people to think that perhaps Jesus means something like, "God is good, and you shouldn't call me good because I am not really God." But that's precisely the opposite of what Jesus means to say. Jesus is taking the word "good" literally. The young man had called him, "Good teacher." He said it as a way of being respectful, but he wasn't really thinking of the meaning of the word.
Jesus understands that all true goodness comes from God. He's saying, "When you call me good, do you really know what you're saying? If I am good in the ultimate sense, it's because I am not merely a good person; it's because I am God in human flesh." So when Jesus says, "Why do you call me good?" he's asking the question, "Do you really know who you are talking to? And do you really know what you are saying?"
Only God is infinitely good.
He is the source of all goodness.
By comparison our righteousness is as "filthy rags" in his sight (Isaiah 64:6).
Until you know who God is, you'll never know who you are. That's why Jesus won't let this young man get away with using the word "good" casually. If Jesus is truly "good," then Jesus is truly God. And compared to him, we are all miserable sinners.
Martin Luther said we should preach law to the proud and grace to the humble. The young man walked away sorrowful because he had an inflated opinion of his own attainments. His love of money revealed the darkness in his heart.
Of the three gospel accounts of this story, only Mark records that Jesus loved him (v. 21). And in an ironic twist, he loved him enough to tell him the truth, knowing that he would walk away. Sometimes love lets people go so they can come back later. We read this story and are left wondering what happened to the young man.
Today's question kicks us right in our own self-inflated sense of importance. We're not as good as we think we are, and compared to Jesus, we're not good at all.
As soon as we lay down our tattered rags, we can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Salvation begins when we confess that God is good and we are not.
That's why he asks us the same question he asked the rich young ruler: "Why do you call me good?"
Righteous Lord, you and you alone are good. And compared to you, there is no goodness in me at all. Thank you for providing all I need now and for eternity. Amen.