Did Jesus Say That He Wasn’t God?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:18-27) 

In today’s gospel reading we have a fascinating interaction between Our Lord Jesus Christ and a wealthy man who came test him. The man addressed the Lord as “Good Teacher” and something very interesting happens as Our Lord replies, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.”

This is a very important point because it seems that some people hear these words of the Lord Jesus and either misinterpret them or are confused by them. In fact, I know that some of the Muslim apologists use this verse as a “proof” that Jesus did not claim to be God. Of course the Church would reject that idea and so should we. Our Lord Jesus Christ clearly says things like “He who has seen me, has seen the Father who sent Me.” He also uses the name of God when He says “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The Lord did not deny His divinity, so what exactly is happening here in this verse?

Our Lord Jesus is trying to teach the man that words have meaning and importance. They are not simply to be used loosely and however one decides to use them. If this is true with normal language, it is much more true with the language that speaks of God and the things of God. One of those things of God, or attributes of God is “goodness”. Our Lord Jesus Christ is trying to take this man’s partial understanding and shed light on it. The man has rightly called Him “good.” But the man has not done so out of a good and pure intention or true knowledge. He doesn’t really understand what it means to be good and how Christ alone is in fact good. Some of the Fathers tell us that he only calls Jesus “good” because he wants to flatter Him and lay a trap for Him, while His guard is down.

Some people have misunderstood the Lord’s words when He says “why do you call me good?” as a way of saying that in fact He is not good. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Christ does not do is say, “Why do you call Me good, I am not good.” He also does not say “why do you call me good, only God is good and I am not God.” He says “Why do you call Me good? “(When) no one but God is good.” In fact what the Lord is doing is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for this seeker to follow. He is giving him a rope to climb up to the heavenly understanding of who this Jesus is that the man is seeking to test.

The Lord is making sure that the man uses the word “good” in the proper way, and more importantly, He is trying to show the man that in fact He is good, but not for any reasons that the man has perceived, but by His very identity as the only Son of God. St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us that the crowds who came to test Jesus were full of men who looked at Christ as a mere man and they came with deceit and tried to cleverly test him and ensnare him in his words. Nevertheless the Lord Jesus, in his mercy and love for mankind, offered this man clues as to His real identity and He offered Him life-giving wisdom that the man would never again have a chance to hear or receive.

The rich man came with a question, “what must be done to inherit eternal life?” And the Lord Jesus Christ gave this man a prescription that was individually tailored to meet his needs and to remove his deficiencies. He told him to go and sell all that he had and to give it to the poor and to come follow Him. So what was the problem? In fact there were two of them.

First, the man did not know the identity of Jesus. His heart was hardened to Jesus. He had heard His words and probably seen His miracles but none of that was enough for him. The fathers of the Church tell us that our heart is hardened through a life of sin. When we live in sin and selfishness, our love for God and for others grows cold. Our love for the truth also grows cold. So this was the man’s first problem, he did not recognize the identity of Jesus Christ. Knowing His identity can be the difference between life and death. When we have a true and living faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, we are compelled in our hearts to really listen to His words and to honor His teachings in our life. They become our law. But when we lack this faith, we are ready to fall into any sins because we don’t truly believe in the One who taught us to live a life of righteousness and holiness. In our lives we have many opportunities to bend the rules and to become lax. But we are reminded that if Jesus Christ is who we believe He is. If Jesus Christ is who He says He is, then His teachings are truly life changing, they are everything. Without His word, we are in great darkness. Had the man known the true identity of Our Lord, he would have dropped everything in his life to quickly follow Him, and he would have received so much more than he could ever possibly imagine. It is the same for us.

The second reason why this man did not follow the prescription given by the heavenly physician, was that the man was consumed by his wealth. He was in love with his money and riches. He lived for them. What do we live for? He was disingenuous for asking the Lord Jesus about eternal life since he was fully consumed by the materialism and distractions of this earthly life. Why should we ask about Heaven if we are absolutely consumed by earth? Why should we ask about heavenly treasure, if in our hearts we treasure what is earthly and corruptible? Not only was this man consumed by his love for his wealth and the pride of being wealthy, in living this way, he actively denied the first and second commandments of God. You cannot love God with all your strength, with all your mind and with all your heart if in fact you have a stronger love for something else. Our tells Lord us that “you cannot serve two masters.” And if this man had not loved God with his whole being, neither could he possibly have loved his neighbors and those in need.

The Lord gave this man a beautiful gift, a tailor made, personalized word that would bring him new life and entrance into a new reality, a new relationship with Him. But the man sadly rejected it. Some of you may be thinking that what the Lord asked was very difficult, and I would agree with you. It was difficult, but it wasn’t impossible. In fact, some of our greatest saints, such as St. Anthony the great, did exactly this in response to the savior’s life giving word. Difficult, but not impossible, and definitely worth it.

Each of us has a chance to respond to the difficult words and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. What do we do with that great opportunity that is given to us whenever we open the gospels? Instead of hearing them and thinking about all of the things that we would have to sacrifice or give up, I pray that we would approach these things through deep faith and an understanding that whatever we sacrifice for God is nothing compared to what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to share with us. Through Him, we become truly wealthy with a treasure that can never be taken away, and this treasure is Christ Himself. Glory be to God Forever AMEN. 

Source: Sermons