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Rich young ruler Heinrich Hoffman 1889

Mark 10:17-30

Hilary of Poitiers points out that here we see Jesus not just as a teacher of the Law, but as the Lord of Law. The young man thinks it enough to have followed the letter of the law in every respect, and he is learned in it and pious in its observance – but he does not recognise that Jesus is the consummation of the law – he stands in the presence of the Word who gave the Law and fails to grasp that. The Law cannot save except through justrifying faith (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). He questions Jesus as though he were merely a teacher of the law and fails to discern the Spirit of the Law, so Jesus rejects his declaration as spurious and asks why he called him ‘good’. If he had known Jesus was God, then he would have said so, but he knew the letter and not the spirit.

The only real goodness which exists, says Origen, is of God, and the Son’s goodness is that of God, and read aright, we see here another confession by Jesus that he is God. As Jerome reminds us, he who does not receive Christ as Lord is not in any proper position to address him as merely a good teacher – he is the source of all wisdom and all goodness. St Augustine reminds us that God is uniquely good in a way that cannot be diminished, and as Bede points out, human beings are good only in so far as they participate in the eternal goodness of God. Grace does not coerce the human will, but cooperates with with human willingness. Those not yet ready for the challenge of radical grace do well to at least follow the command of the law that can be the first stage towards greater cooperation with grace. The young man went away, Augustine tells us, because he was still trapped by his worldly desires. This is because the rich find that they love wealth and it takes over their hearts.

But Clement of Alexandria reminds us that God does not abandon the wealthy, and if they are able to put the search for God ahead of their love of wealth, then they too can be unwounded by it, especially if they use their wealth for the purposes God thinks are good. We can all, he tells us, find something to put in front of our love of God, such as family or work, and so it is not just the rich who can find it difficult to receive the Gospel message – we all have hard hearts sometimes. But nothing is impossible for those who love God, because nothing is impossible for God.