Matthew 19 tells the story of a fat cat who thought he had life by the throat. Jesus was seated in a sea of people when Mr. Wonderful walks up and says, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looked up from a crowd of kindergartners and corrected his concept of “good.” “Why do you say, ‘good’ don’t you know that only God is good.”(Bill Dye paraphrase).
Don’t let that awkward moment slide by. To Self- Rightousman life was all about being good, and he was good at being good. In his mind he had established a standard for good and every day he worked hard to reach it.
Jesus was patient and said, “Keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he replied, as if some were more important than others. So Jesus humored him with examples, “Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor.”
I don’t know if he was blind or just dumb, but he really thought he had it all covered, “Yeah, that law stuff, I’ve done it all my life without ever slipping up even once!” (again, Bill Dye translation).
Jesus doesn’t say it but I have to think he must have wondered, “So if you are already good then why are you asking me what you need to do?”
Maybe Mr. Perfect was just covering his bases, and in effect he meant, “What good thing must I do. You know… in case I missed something. Which of course I haven’t. Because after all, I am good.”
Or did he ask because he wanted to show off, “Hey Jesus buddy, if you want a poster boy for what good looks like then look no further.”
Counseling has a word for guys like this; it’s called, “delusional.”
He reminds me of that old country song, “Oh lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror cause I get better looking each day.”
Maybe you know someone like this. Could be you’re married to him. You know what they say, “Behind every great man there’s a woman rolling her eyes.”
He couldn’t have kept the commandments from youth. Nobody’s that good. So then Jesus fired both barrels straight at his weak spot, “Then you only lack one thing. Sell everything and give it to the poor.” Ouch. Does this mean that anyone who wants into the kingdom has to sell everything and give it away?
Why’d Jesus make it so tough? I think Jesus said it to get his attention. This blowhard was convinced that he was the exception to humanity.
There was however a glowing exception. Old man self-righteous was also old man selfish. Life was good. Life was easy. He’d even managed to convince himself that he had never committed a single sin. And yet every day when he drove his Mercedes to the penthouse he passed a thousand needs. Maybe he looked out through the glass, saw the suffering, and thought, “Get a job.”
In a way I’m glad that fellow asked his question because it helps us to understand God’s measure of “good.”
We fall into a trap by trying to earn God’s approval through our performance, and think “good” means “pretty good.” Or “purty good,” depending on how deep you live in the south. “God understands,” we rationalize, “cuz I’m purty good.”
It’s as if we are still in school trying to explain our report card to an unsympathetic father, “OK dad so I made a D in math, but look at that A in basket weaving. C’mon Dad, don’t focus so hard on the negative.” It reminds me of the fellow that brought home three F’s and a D. The dad coolly asked, “What went wrong?” Jr. replied, “I dunno. Guess I’z just focusin too hard on one subject.”
The standard of the law is absolute perfection. If you want to win God’s favor by being good then two C’s and three B’s won’t cut it. The Law demands straight A’s. Actually it’s worse than that. You really have to make straight 100’s. That’s the standard of the law. Break one, and you mess up the whole thing.
Nobody is that good. That’s why we need grace. God doesn’t expect perfection; He knows you don’t have it to give. He wants your humility. When you come to Him and say, “Lord I’ve blown it so many ways can you still accept a sinner like me,” you’ll hear him reply, “That’s good enough.”