Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Whatchoo Talkin' 'Bout, Jesus?

As I pore my way through my Bible commentaries in preparation for this Sunday's sermon, I find myself facing a pretty significant "remnant" this week.

I like sermons to be toight as a toiger, with a clearly developed point and purpose. I don't always succeed, but it's the goal.

Problem is, my brain finds itself wandering off on tangents that would...if I let them get into my sermon...have me jabbering away for hours as I ran down theological concept after theological concept like a hyperactive Jesus labrador paired with a tennis ball machine.

Every week, there are "remnants," those parts of the Bible passages that I choose not to explore. What's got me running now is Mark 10:18...which is an utterly fascinating little verse, given the classical Christian assertions about the nature of Jesus. Mark 10:18, in the event you've not got the whole Bible memorized, says this:
"Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."
This is...interesting. Mostly, it is interesting in the context of orthodox Christian teaching about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. We...and I include myself firmly among the "we"...hold that Jesus is God. It's that whole wacky mystic semi-Aristotelian Trinity thing, and I just can't shake it loose. Don't wanna. It's central to my faith.

Yet this little snippet o' teaching sounds a challenging note across all three of the synoptic Gospels. Luke chooses to reprise it precisely in Luke 18:19. Matthew gets a bit coy with it in Matthew 19:17. But in all three of these conceptually linked Gospels, Jesus deflects the point of implying strongly that he is not to be confused with God.

Most of the commentaries I've got kicking around suggest that this is simply indicative of the focus of the synoptic Gospels. In them, Jesus pretty relentlessly deflects attention away from himself, and towards the Father whose Kingdom he came to proclaim. Unlike the more intimate Christological teachings of John's Gospel, Jesus of Nazareth really isn't the point of Jesus of Nazareth's teachings in the first three Gospels.

Still, it's one of the more striking "Whatchoo Talkin' Bout Jesus" moments in Scripture, particularly for those of us who have a personal relationship with the Second Person of the Trinity.


  1. Perhaps when you accept the fact that Jesus came to fullfill an objective purpose and was not a means to making men feel better, you'd be less confused. Holding a low view of scripture will also be a continual problem.

    Jesus deflects the point of implying strongly that he is not to be confused with God.

    Actually, Jesus in these statements affirmed His diety - for only God is intrinsically good, and His listeners knew this and would be forced to count the cost of ascribing Him such a title.

  2. @ Mark: A means to "making men feel better?" When have I ever said that? Jesus came to simultaneously kick and save our behinds, which a reading of this passage strongly affirms. He couldn't care less about our precious self-esteem, which tends to be the greatest impediment to right relationship with God. How does he deal with the young man in the passage? Does he coddle him?

    What's interesting here is that his listeners didn't think he was God, and certainly not the wealthy young man who got the smackdown. Even the most committed among his disciples only felt that he was "meshiach," which would not have meant "God" to them.

  3. I couldn't help noticing that Jesus was talking to people who believed He was a prophet, or a teacher, so it was His job as a teacher to deflect any credit they gave Him as such over to God. He wasn't denying He was God, He just wasn't taking credit for being God to these who were seeking Him as a prophet.

    It also was not His character to seek man's approval of himself as a deity, so no, he did not set out to correct them, or to "get" them to believe He was God. He simply answered them according to what they believed. God never wrestles with our beliefs as humans. He works with WHAT we believe to teach us about Him.

    As we allow Him in to "sup with us", then He teaches us deeper, meatier things about Himself. He seeks relationship, unlike man who seeks adulation or self satisfaction.

  4. I think Jesus might have just been testing that person. He didn't say "Don't call me good because I'm not," and he certainly say "Only God is good, so therefore because I'm not God, I'm not good." He just said "Why do you call me good, knowing that only God is good?" To which the appropriate answer would be, "Because you are God!" But the young guy just kind of ignored that statement. Also I'm sure Jesus wanted to clarify that he is not the Father God.

    But yeah this is definitely one of those versus that I read and go "... I'm sorry what?"

  5. Thanks for paddling into the wave. I think the verse has affinity with the "Messianic Secret" passages. "Who do you say that I am? Right, the Christ. Now don't say anything about it." I would tend to come at the verse via the cross - saying "Why call me good?" is a small provocation on the way to doing all kinds of things seemingly unworthy of God, like dying and doing so in a way presumed to be unholy and accursed.