The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 10:17-22] mentions the number ‘one’, but in a somewhat hidden way.
A rich young man comes to Jesus and asks him what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response to the rich young man is this: ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’ Literally the last sentence can be read in this way: ‘No one is good, except one—God.’
The number one is obviously an important number. Last week the text had to do with marriage (and divorce), and Jesus brought up that extremely important, but also extremely old text, that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. They become one flesh. They look like two, they may often feel like two, but God says that they are one. That one is an important number to remember.
Having looked at that text a little more closely, I recently learned [from BDAG, page 292] that ‘numerous sepulchral inscriptions celebrate the virtue of a surviving spouse by noting that he or she was married only once, thereby suggesting the virtue of extraordinary fidelity.’ That one has been considered important as well.
It has been noted by some scholars that the first part of the Gospel according to Mark is for Jewish Christians, and they would be very familiar with the following bible passage: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).’ Yes, one is a very important number.
When Jesus tells the rich young man that no one is good except God alone, is Jesus saying that he is not God? Hardly! It just takes a while for a person’s mind to get used to the idea of the Trinity—that there are three Persons but one God.
Jesus also asks the young man a question, a why question [‘Why do you call me good?’], usually some of the most difficult questions to answer. And it is also probably one of the best questions for a discussion to continue, and those discussion can continue, even at much later times, after people have had a chance to think for a while.
The text for this Sunday is one of those texts where you do not have a complete ending. After Jesus asks the rich young man to sell everything that he has, the text says that he was ‘disheartened’ and went away ‘sorrowful’. While the translation may be a bit brief, it has been suggested that the first word describes a more external response, while the second, an internal.
This description of the internal response may indicate that this rich young man eventually did come and follow Jesus (and later described this event so that it could be written down). The early church did have a lot of followers, and it also did have a significant amount of income to support the needs of those first Christians.
The number one has always been an important number. Jesus focuses his attention on little ones. He focuses his attention on particular people.
In this gospel account, the enemies of Jesus are many, and the disciples of Jesus are lacking in many ways. Jesus is alone as he goes to the cross and takes care of every one.