May 21, 1996
“Good” is a workhorse when it comes to adjectives. We use it to define behavior, manners, attitudes, character, taste, quality, size and even the weather (sometimes). It can measure acceptability, appropriateness or reliability and describe a certain degree of accuracy, legitimacy, wholesomeness, agreeability, attractiveness, competency and even completeness.
Which of these many associations did the rich man mean when he asked Jesus, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
For one thing, he sounds as if he understands goodness is somehow linked to eternal life. He therefore assumes if he does the right “good” things, namely actions, eternal life would be his.
Jesus answered his question with another question, also using the word “good.” However, He did not describe anything the man could do. Instead, He asked, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good.”
Rather than tie goodness to what someone could do, Jesus tied it to “being,” to who someone is. Then He limited the use of “good” even farther by saying only One Being is good.
Without giving the man a chance to ask any questions about God’s goodness, Jesus went on: “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
The man insisted that he had but in the remaining conversation, Jesus showed him he fell short of moral and religious perfection. He told him to sell or give away all his possessions, then come and follow Him, but the young man turned away. His great wealth was more important to him than what Jesus offered. His goodness was only on the surface.
Not only that, this man missed the point. Jesus said none is good but God. In other words, doing good to please God is like jumping off a rooftop flapping our arms to impress an eagle. God’s goodness is perfect and limitless. Our goodness falls short, is mixed with selfish motives and grinds to a halt when the sacrifice is too great. Nothing we do looks good compared to Him.
The man was asking the wrong questions. He hoped for eternal life by doing something to earn it, but missed the connection between what Jesus said about “good” and his own shortcomings in that department. If he had really listened and agreed, he would have asked for mercy, not continued to ask how he could earn eternal life.
Many people assume that “being a good person” is all that is necessary to please God. To them, eternal life is a matter of their own efforts measuring up. However, Jesus says our “good” is not quite good enough. To please God, it needs to be the perfect good that He alone possesses.
Of course the goodness of God is in Jesus Christ, who is God the Son. The Bible says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Anyone who has eternal life, has it in Him and because of Him, not according to personal merit points.
Wealth plus pride kept the man from getting what he said he wanted. Maybe he was proud that he was a self-made man with a sizable bank account, that he refused to count his own anything he could not work for or earn. His problem: eternal life is a free gift.
Jesus showed this man he needed to relinquish his wealth. It stood in the way of trusting God. He couldn’t do it and for that reason, he walked away sorrowing. What he may not have realized is that someday, he would lose it all anyway. Even at a “good” funeral, where the deceased is a believer on the way to heaven, there is no U-Haul behind the hearse.