OK, so how many times a day does someone ask you, “How are you”? And you reply, “Good! You?” I have developed a habit of responding, to some people’s annoyance I’m sure, “I’m well.” Just a quirk of mine and I’ll tell you why. To me, “good” is a value assessment, as in good or evil or somewhere in between. Honestly, I don’t want to go there, so I say that I am well, as in “I’m OK.”
I am not at all being critical of how others respond or trying to change the way they communicate. This is truly my own issue. So maybe you can grasp a little bit how I was jolted awake when I read this conversation in the story Luke recorded.
One day one of the local officials asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to deserve eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good-only God. (Luke 18:18, 19 MSG)
Wait a minute! Wasn’t Jesus good? Yes, he was God and therefore good but why is this seemingly offhand remark thrown in here?
As always, Jesus never said anything without meaning. He already knew what he was about to point out to this man; that his life had been structured around the doctrine of needing to be good to attain eternal life. He had managed to compartmentalize and distinguish between being good, keeping the rules, and where his love was invested. But it was not placed where it mattered. He had a love of rule keeping, not relationship.
Jesus then asked him about the rules, which the man proudly boasted that he had kept all of his life. Oddly enough, he also seemed to intuit that there was something missing.
Jesus then told him to downsize–to zero.
“This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.” (Luke 18:23 MSG)
The rich man was in love with the stuff and the importance it gave him, the power he could wield because of it and the comfort it afforded him.
Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s kingdom? (Luke 18:24 MSG)
The point of all this seems to be again, love. What is my love invested in, things or people? “Good” -ness has nothing to do with getting into the kingdom. Having nothing puts us in a very vulnerable place; that is dependence upon God for everything because there really is little choice. Having a bunch of stuff and power and control gives us options apart from God that are highly tempting and potentially extremely destructive.
I have friends and so do you who are, shall we say, well-funded. God has blessed them with resources so that they may bless those who are need. Several of them are faithful in that responsibility to God and others.
What if all of life wasn’t about being good by keeping the rules? At the end of a life based on this philosophy is a self-centered, self-congratulatory, self-satisfied justification for an existence founded on . . . (wait for it) . . . self.
You see, I may think that the rules are my highest priority and obeying them explicitly my duty and calling. However, since loving God first with heart, soul and mind and then our neighbor like we love ourselves puts our rule-minding a little lower on our totem pole (an appropriate metaphor since a totem is a family or tribal history story pole).
Back to the statement that there is none good but God. Did Jesus mean to infer that he was not “good”? Well, could it be that in the context the young ruler called Jesus good because he truly was basing his value judgment on the fact that Jesus was doing good works; healing, casting out demons, saving people, etc., when in fact it was not because the works were flowing from Jesus’ intrinsic “good-ness” but from God’s goodness.
To the young ruler it may have seemed like these works were performed because of Jesus’ acquired goodness from his ability to keep rules. In fact, since goodness comes only from God, not the ruler’s own abilities, that left him holding the bag. There is no goodness in us.
By giving all his “goods” to others he would be forced away from self-sufficiency into utter dependence on God and His good-ness.
So I guess this is the subtle identity need that presents when I say “I am well.” I indeed may be well. Good . . . well, hopefully someday.