14 October 2012

Mark 10:17-31

"'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.'" (vv. 17b-18)


Since the beginning of September our Sunday readings have been from the Gospel of Mark. Mark's Gospel is punctuated with powerful questions. Some of these are asked by those who question Jesus: "Good Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?" and some are asked by Jesus, "Why do you call me good?" The overarching question within which all these questions are asked, is the two-part question of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30): "Who do people say that I am?" and, "… but who do you say that I am?"

This week's theme explores one of the early Church's answers to that question: 'the eternal Christ'. Jesus is not simply a human being, but is the logic of the universe made flesh - the saviour of the world who was present at the beginning of everything and who will be present at the end of everything. It is therefore not surprising that in this passage Mark presents Jesus as competent to handle questions about eternal life (verses 17, 26, 30).

The urgency in the questions about eternal life for Jesus' and Mark's contemporaries were 'how' questions: how to inherit eternal life; how to enter the kingdom of God; how to be 'saved'. For our own time, perhaps the more urgent question is a 'what' question: 'What is eternal life?' Sometimes Mark implies that it is a future inheritance; sometimes that it is here in the present; often that it is the same as the kingdom of God which Jesus brings near. Eternal life, then, is a quality of existence and relating which is governed by the presence and values of God - because of which many human assumptions about money and status and relationships will be turned upside down (verse 31).

Inheriting eternal life, then, turns out not to be an esoteric business concerned with future and ethereal dimensions. Just as the eternal Christ is recognisable only in human flesh, so we come to know eternal life only as we learn to handle money and status and relationships on the earth.

To Ponder

  • What does the phrase, "eternal life" mean to you?
  • When was the last time you were asked a powerful question that changed your life? What was it? And what happened?
  • Are there any relationships or communities in which you might be the one who needs to ask a powerful question? And what might that be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..