I love languages and especially the origins of words and how they change meaning over time or over borders. When I was recently reading the story of the rich young ruler, I was struck by the use of the word “good” and how it has lost its wonder. How was the movie? It was good. Not great. Good often means OK, but not really exciting.
That’s why Jesus’ conversation with this young man is so informative on the word “good.” In Mark 10 we read: “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, who has received lots of exalted titles in the New Testament: Son of the Most High, Son of David, Son of God, Messiah, without blinking, stops this time and makes a big deal about that one little word. Jesus says: “Good. Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” The man would not have expected this. This kind of greeting, “Good teacher” was common in the ancient Orient. This guy is just being polite but Jesus doesn’t respond politely.
We often confuse goodness with being nice or polite always but goodness with God is much wilder and stronger and more challenging and riskier than just being nice. Jesus doesn’t respond politely. Why do you call me good? No one is good but God. Then he begins to define goodness. “You know the commands: Don’t murder; don’t lie; don’t cheat; don’t steal.” And the man says: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Then Jesus responds: “Go sell everything you have and give the money away and come follow me.” We know how the story goes downhill from there.
This story really makes me uncomfortable because I like my comfortable life and my charitable gifts always come out of excess money that I can comfortably live without. Yet I challenge you and myself to reflect on what it means to be “comfortable,” when so many are barely staying alive. 2020 forced all of us to make changes we never dreamt possible—yet we did. Sure, some of those changes were challenging or in some cases tragic, but we survived and some of us thrived.
We carry our happiness (or sadness, anger, etc.) in a bucket and our changing circumstances have little effect on its contents. In the coming year let’s resolve to live more simply, so that others might simply live.