Sunday, August 16, 2009

Good Enough

First Reading: Jgs2:11-19
Psalm: Ps 106:34-37, 39-40, 43-44 -- Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people
Gospel: Mt 19:16-22

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” - Matthew 19:16

A common thread comes up when discussing with people who are not Christian: "Well, I'm a good person, why shouldn't I get into whatever Heaven is?" Those who hold this belief will often confess that they are not perfect, but they are better than lots of people. Why should belief in some archaic man-in-the-sky be necessary?

In the gospel today, the wording of the young man struck me pretty hard. "What good must I do to gain eternal life?" and then, when told to follow the Commandments, he asks "which ones?" He seems to want to know either what is the bare minimum he can do to gain salvation, or what the magic formula is for attaining everlasting life.

Our faith, however, is not one of bare minimums. Not one of us can claim that we have followed the commandments completely. Not one of us can stand in the presence of the Lord and say that we did all that we could. There are no magic set of prayers or offerings that guarantee salvation, save one. The only way that we can be absolutely assured of eternal life is to lose all concept that we are "good enough." We must offer the only thing that we truly have: ourselves. We are saved through grace, granted us from the mercy of Jesus, when we choose to give ourselves to Him.

Unfortunately, the young man in the gospel goes away sad. He finds it too difficult to part with his possessions. Being "good enough" just got too hard. A lesson for us is that it is not in the possessing, but in the unwillingness to part with those possessions when necessary is the problem. It is built into us to attach to something, and so we can choose either passing things or eternal things. When one day this world ends, those who are attached to passing things will find that all they held is gone and bemoan their loss, but those who are attached to eternal things will find that they now hold all things and rejoice forever.

Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you for this day. We are eternally grateful for the gift of your grace, which sustains us in this life and brings us everlasting joy in the next. Lord, heal us of our pride when we begin to think that we can gain salvation on our own. Teach us the peace that comes of giving ourselves to you. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


  1. I commend you my friend, this is a beautiful way of explaining the meaning of Sundays Gospel. Yes we are saved by grace & mercy. It has been amazing listening to C.S. Lewis "The Great Divorce" this week it brings all this into light. We have to give it all up to enter into the kingdom. We have alot of things, be it people, possessions, pride, anger, etc.that we have to let go in our lives.

  2. This is how I see that gospel.

    First, it is as you say - the man is thinking in terms of *earning* his salvation, the good he must do to be good enough for eternal life.

    Jesus replies by saying there is only One who is good; in other words, the man cannot be 'good enough' to deserve eternal life. Ever.

    But then Jesus goes on to say 'if you wish to enter into life', meaning that the man CAN enter into life, even though he cannot earn it. And when the man asks which commandments make the difference between entering life and not entering life, Jesus lists the ones that are summed up by 'love your neighbor as yourself'. This is reminiscent of the parable of the sheep and the goats (in Matt 25, IIRC), in which our final judgement is based on the love that we show for each other. This, then, is Jesus telling us what the minimum is... love your neighbor.

    But the conversation doesn't stop there. The man says he does meet that minimum, and asks what else he lacks. Jesus says 'if you wish to be perfect...'. This, then, is something different. This is more than the minimum - to be perfect, we must give our ALL to God and follow him. And Jesus promises that, if we do this, we will not just gain eternal life, but we will store up treasure for ourselves too. In other words, we will be rewarded beyond just the bare reception of eternal life, for all that we do to put God and following him first above everything else that we might be attached to.

  3. Thank you, Anna. I enjoyed reading your interpretation very much, and I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

    I believe that our sentiment on the interpretation is nearly identical, though we had somewhat of a different way of describing it. Looking back, there are things that I would re-word in my own post, because they are not clear or could lead into misunderstanding.

    Thanks again!

  4. Yes, I agree that our sentiment is very similar. I think the only point at which we may have had a disagreement was that I think there was something about minimums in that passage, although I agree that it wasn't about the minimum to be "good enough" for heaven.

    I'm glad you enjoyed my interpretation. :)