Have you ever been in class with a “kiss-up” – a “teacher’s pet”? Someone that said whatever he or she had to in order to find favor with the prof? Why do they irk us so? I’ll tell you why: insincerity – knowing that they really don’t care for the professor, but are just working an agenda. “Kissing Up” & “Honor” – though on the outside they may look similar, are really different beasts entirely: one recognizes the King’s imprint, & treats the individually appropriately, & the other simply appropriates flattery in order to use people as a means to an end. I hate seeing people used as a means to an end.
“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher…’” (Mark 10:17a)
Is “Good Teacher” really a kiss-up? The pharisees had just enough in common with Jesus to make their differences really loud – sorta like family… it’s the subtle differences that really get under our skin. The word “ruler” (as he is called in Luke 18:18) actually means he led the local congregation, & the fact that he was young meant that he must’ve towed the line to get ahead: he was youthful, wealthy, well respected, & in charge. He wouldn’t think Jesus was “good”, but a heretic. He most definitely wound not have accepted him as his “teacher”.
“‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Mark 10:17b)
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question likely contains a double-edged sword for the Rich Young Ruler. As a Pharisee, it would likely be a ploy to trip Jesus up, but in all honesty – it’s a question that’s hard not to ask without feeling it in your bones because it’s the sort of thing that we have all asked ourselves at some point in our lives, laying in bed late at night, unable to sleep. It’s the sort of question you can pretend not to mean all you want, but in the very core of you, it’s genuine. “Good Teacher – what must 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 10:18)
So Jesus pushed him closer towards an important truth; “Why do you call me ‘good’?” Isn’t that like Jesus to not leave anyone where they started – to always press them closer to what’s of ultimate importance? Jesus turns the Rich Young Ruler’s kiss-up into an opportunity to crack the veil on something the church will struggled to put words to for the next hundred to two-hundred years. Likely reflecting upon Psalm 14 – a common worship song of the Israelites of his day – which says, “…there is no one that does good – no, not one…” (it’s a real head-lifter & fist-pumper – a real high energy anthem!), Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘good’?” That’s to say, “Are you hearing yourself? Do you really know what it means if I am truly, & ultimately good? Are you ready to go there?” Aaaaand, he’s not, & Jesus is apparently okay with that, & listen: it’s not always our job to bring it home! Even Jesus let certain topics just – hang – there – and moved on. We don’t need to go, “Wait, wait, bro – you aren’t getting what I’m saying here…” Let the Holy Spirit do His job.
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’” (Mark 10:19-20)
So, this guy thought he was doing alright. He would’ve prided himself in his religiousity, so Jesus throws it out there – the “safe answer” this guy wanted to hear: “I mean, you obviously KNOW the commandments – do ‘em...”, & like He thought, the guy truly believed that he had! But Jesus knew his heart, & ultimately God’s law is not so much about outward behavior as it is a genuinely transformed heart, which this guy didn’t have. Jesus kindly exposed him to himself: he was shown a liar, & a commandment breaker with one demand…
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22)
You see, outwardly you can appear to ‘walk the line’, but inside you can still be a total mess. This guy likely genuinely thought he had it all together, but he was breaking the first commandment – he was worshiping a false god, & was a slave to his money! And that’s not even the biggest problem: the biggest problem is that he doesn’t see it. That’s what it means to be truly lost – when you are so far gone that you can’t even see that you’re so far gone.
He walks away sad, & in his love for the guy, Jesus let’s him. It’s actually good sometimes to feel your failure, with the hope that one day you’d get it & admit, “I can’t” & God’s Holy Spirit can step in & say, “That’s OKAY – Jesus already DID!”
Step back & take a good look at this picture again. Listen to the whole conversation as though it took place in a High School class room… “Hello Mr. Josephson!” Puts an Apple on his desk, “How can I be ASSURED that I’ll get an A+ in your class & make you PROUD?” Professor Joshua Josephson responds, “Well, obviously come to class, read your coursework, study hard, do your homework, & test well…” And the student responds, with a smile, “Yay! So I’ve got it, then!” But then Professor Josephson adds, “But in reality, the final project counts for 100% of your score. And it’s a group project…” …and the teacher’s pet walked away really bummed, mumbling, “I can do it on my own…”, because he knew he had the most book-smarts in the class, so anyone he worked with would only drag his score down, which is why he only, always depended on HIMSELF to get things done. The end.
Where do you stand with God? Don’t turn away downcast when you realize that you just can’t do it on your own – you don’t have to do it because Jesus already has! You are now free to make a go of it unafraid of your failure, because your failure can no longer define you! Your identity is not wrapped up in what you do, but in…
That’s the security that allows us to bypass flattery & kissing up for living out true honor. Let’s practice living in that.
So be it.