photography by D. Plasman
Is this man headed for heaven? If Chicago’s Union Station is considered heaven then the answer is “Yes.” On another level, however, I imagine most people who consider themselves religiously orthodox would give an answer along the lines of: “Well, that depends. Does he believe that Jesus died for his sins? Does he believe Jesus is God’s son? Does he believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?”
I discovered a different answer while spending much of the last two years writing Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke. Here’s an excerpt:
A leader in the community asked Jesus, “Good teacher, how do I get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother.” The questioner replied, “I’ve lived that way my whole life.” (Luke 18:18-21)
Let’s give the questioner a ton of credit. He prefers the direct approach and wants Jesus to know what’s on his mind. Let’s also applaud him for an apparent lack of sinister motives. He’s not trying to trap Jesus into saying something that later can be used against him.
The question on his mind is a universal one for all who believe or have a hunch that something exists beyond this life. He asks the question which millions of people have thought: “If there’s something beyond this life, how do I get it?”
However he understands eternal life, the afterlife, the next life, or the good life here and now, he supposes that getting it involves something he must do. Surely, there exists a list of boxes he can check off.
Just the opening Jesus needs! What an opportunity to dispel every misconception about obtaining eternal life! We might expect Jesus to say with evangelistic fervor, “Believe in me and the God who sent me.” Or, “Worship me as the only way, the only truth, and the only life; then you’ll be saved.”
Jesus doesn’t go that route. There’s no “Come to Jesus” sermon here—no emotional altar call either. Instead, Jesus honors his own tradition and that of the inquirer and says, “Live a noble life. Keep the commandments. Be good and do good.” Confidently comes the reply: “Amen, Good Teacher, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
I like where Jesus starts with this one. He acknowledges and respects what the inquirer already knows. Jesus doesn’t discredit or dismantle the beliefs dearly held. The lesson? We could do worse than honor the traditions of others who seek, as we do, answers to life’s most important questions.
[Jesus ends this encounter by telling the inquirer that he lacks only one thing, and if he can do this one thing, then he will be heaven bound and obtain eternal life. That one thing is to sell all he has, give the proceeds to the poor, then follow Jesus on the way. I wonder if we should take Jesus at his word? Let’s at least put a moratorium in our churches on telling people what they need to believe and, instead, encourage each other to live moral lives, regardless of the name with which we address God.]
In honor and in memory of M. L. King who urged, prodded, and challenged us to pursue a more just and equitable society — the stock market is closed today.
Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.com.