Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. (Luke 18:18-23)
The New Testament consistently notes that God alone is good. It is possible in Christ’s reply to the ruler who calls Him a “Good Teacher” that he is actually asking the man if he considers Christ to be God. Jesus is not denying that He is good, only asking the man if he understands what he is really saying. The ruler puts himself in a quandary – he calls Jesus “good”, and Jesus points out that is a title for God alone – but then the ruler doesn’t want to do what the Good Teacher tells him. It is the same dilemma many believers find themselves in – we consider God to be our Lord but still want to obey our own will and desires rather than God’s commands.
St Basil the Great offers these comments on goodness:
‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the council of the ungodly‘ [Psalm 1]. What is truly good, therefore, is principally and primarily the most blessed. And that is God. Whence Paul also, when about to make mention of Christ, said: ‘According to the manifestation of our blessed God and Savior Jesus Christ‘ [Titus 2:13]. For, truly blessed is Goodness itself toward which all things look, which all things desire, an unchangeable nature, lordly dignity, calm existence; a happy way of life, in which there is no alteration, which no change touches; a flowing fount, abundant grace, inexhaustible treasure. But, stupid and worldly men, ignorant of the nature of good itself, frequently bless things worth nothing, riches, health, renown; not one of which is in its nature good, not only because they easily change to the opposite, but also because they are unable to make their possessors good. What man is just because of his possessions? What man is self-controlled because of his health? On the contrary, in fact, each of these possessions frequently becomes the servant of sin for those who use them badly. Blessed is he, then, who possesses that which is esteemed of the greatest value, who shares in the goods that cannot be taken away. How shall we recognize him? ‘He who hath not walked in the council of the ungodly.‘
Interestingly at this point as St Basil continues his commentary, he addresses an issue which seems much more modern, but was obviously a concern in the 4th Century as well – when the bible speaks of ‘man’ does it include or exclude women? Obviously, it is not just a case of modern political correctness but an issue that a 4th Century saint believed needed to be addressed. So Basil says:
But, before I explain what it is ‘not to walk in the council of the ungodly,’ I wish to settle the question asked at this point. Why, you say, does the prophet single out only man and proclaim him happy? Does he not exclude women from happiness? By no means. For, the virtue of man and woman is the same, since creation is equally honored in both; therefore, there is the same reward for both. Listen to Genesis. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.‘ They whose nature is alike have the same reward. Why, then, when Scripture had made mention of man, did it leave woman unnoticed? Because it believed that it was sufficient, since their nature is alike to indicate the whole through the more authoritative part.
‘Blessed, therefore, is the man who hath not walked in the council of the ungodly.’ (EXEGETIC HOMILIES, pp 155-156)
[Men and Women: In what I think of as a humorous note and comment on modernity, during my recent visit to Portland, OR, I saw in a restaurant that both bathroom doors had the Men and Women signs removed, replaced with a sign that said “Whatever. Just Wash Your Hands When You are Done.”]