I went to a lecture by Richard Bauckham this week about the christology of Mark's gospel. It was, as you would expect, great. But the big "Of course!" moment for me was in his brief discussion on the story of the Rich Young Ruler who met Jesus (Mk 10:17-31).
The Ruler refers to Jesus as "Good teacher" and Jesus responds with the words, "Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone".
This saying has always puzzled me (on the rare occasions when I have cast a sideways glance at it). It looks like Jesus is rebuking the Ruler for calling him 'good' because only God - not Jesus - is good. For a well trained Chalcedonian graduate such as myself this feels ... odd to say the least.
Bauckham's talk gave me two new insights on this puzzling question:
(a) The words 'but God alone' are an allusion to the shema (as are the same words in 2:27).
(b) Jesus is not rebuking the man and in the process denying that he himself is good. Rather he is using a penetrating question to push the man (and Mark is pushing his readers) to think through the implications of his own words to Jesus. So Jesus' question to the man is designed to draw him to recognizing Christ's divine identity.
Now this claim makes perfect sense in the flow of Mark's unfolding narrative revelation of Jesus' identity. Throughout the gospel we have stories in which the issue of Jesus' identity is raised again and again in very tantilizing ways. It is only before the High Priest in 14:62 that the question of Jesus' identity is overtly clarified. The story in Mark 10 is one of a sequence of stories designed (in part) to raise the question of Jesus' identity and to point readers towards his sharing in the identity of the one God of Israel.
You know what? I think this is indeed so!