“Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday


Aloha Eloah (Dear God),

I miss the days when we used to have the big Easter Sonrise celebrations at Waimea Bay which were usually a collaboration of several churches here on O‘ahuʻs Northshore. Each pastor would give a short sermon followed by music and hula in between. Those were the days when you knew everybody at church because the Northshore was a close-knit community. It seemed like there were always waves on Easter because I donʻt remember sitting through a service without witnessing some small sets at Pinballs. At the same time, it was never good enough to make you feel like you were missing out on the surf.

Today, I attended a sunrise service at Ali‘i Beach Park which is actually where they used to hold the event before the inception of the Waimea celebration. Easter arrived really late this year so the sun rose well before the service which started at 7:30. I actually had two hours to surf before the service began, but unfortunately, the waves were flat.

The evangelical pastor engaged in the typical performance of cutting and pasting passages of random scriptures to affirm the message that Christ died to redeem our sins through his resurrection on the cross. As he explained Jesusʻ various vocabulary selections of Greek affections (eros, phileo, agape), I questioned, “Didnʻt Jesus speak Hebrew?” Then he clarified that neither doing good deeds nor having good intentions would prepare us for the path to eternal life. This could only be achieved through the public proclamation of pronouncing Jesus as LORD and savior.

But what did Jesus say when he was probed with this same specific question?

“And behold, one came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.”  (Matt. 19:16-22) Mark 10:17-22 & Luke 18:18-23, (NIV)

Personally, I do not know any Christians who subscribe to this synoptic requirement for eternal life and perhaps its because the gospel of John offers up an alternative. When Jesus discusses this same issue with Nicodemus he says that:

”Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:16)

This is followed by the famous selection in John 3:16

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (NIV)

The discrepancy between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) on this matter compared to the gospel of John is likely because of its later compilation or redaction which occurred 20-30 years after the Synoptics according to most scholars. When this discussion takes place in the Synoptics, it is constructed within a whole different context which was likely either just before, during or just after the temple destruction that Jesus himself predicted in 70CE. Followers of Jesus in this apocalyptic context would need to prove their complete commitment to the messianic movement which really only had one of two outcomes; they would have died in their resistance to the Romans or defeated them to reign once again as an independent Israel in Jerusalem. Thirty years later, the Jesus community that is compiling the gospel of John has likely relocated from Jerusalem where their temple has been burned to the ground and the majority of survivors sold as slaves to the Romans. It is from within this setting that Jesus becomes a substitute for the temple and a symbol of rebirth and hope for the next generation of disciples who dare to to believe.


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