As we prepare ourselves for the great Solemnity of Pentecost this Sunday, May 23, Bishop Boyea is inviting each of us to meditate upon the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit that should animate our daily lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith in action, gentleness, and inner strength (Galatians 5:22-23). Today: Goodness. Bishop Boyea says:
One of the most painful lines in the Gospels is “His countenance fell and he went away sorrowful.” A better translation of the Greek is that his face became gloomy, like a dark night. This young man, wealthy either due to money from his folks or by his own entrepreneurship, could not bear to let go of all that in order to follow Jesus. Why is this conversation with Jesus so important for us?
St. Paul (Gal 5:22) tells us that one of the signs that the Holy Spirit is active in us will be our “goodness”. Now goodness according to St. Paul is not so much about how we conform to certain standards of our day since those standards may be only worldly-wise, but rather how we are like God who is good. It is God who shows us what our goodness should look like.
Well, how will the Holy Spirit help us with the gift of goodness? I believe there are three ways. First, the young man, who is never named, came up to Jesus and recognized that he was made for goodness. In fact, he knelt down before Jesus, he was so impressed by Jesus. In Mark and Luke’s Gospels the young man calls Jesus good, so he knew what he was looking for. Jesus helps to clear things up for the young man by telling him that only God is good. This gift of goodness then is to make us like God. Of course, the hint here is that we have to let God then be the Lord of our lives. This is a kind of warning Jesus is giving to the young man. Goodness may not be a pleasant thing because being like God may not be easy.
Secondly, Jesus then tells the young man to do what God has asked of us, that is, keep the commandments. Being good then, being like God, means that we do God’s will. Let’s give this young man the benefit of the doubt. He says that he has been keeping the commandments since he was a child. Let’s believe him. The commandments are nothing more than showing us how to be god-like. Ah, but there is always more, isn’t there? St. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus really liked this guy and that he looked upon him with love. Jesus probably saw that there was already a lot of goodness there and he simply had to challenge him one more time.
So, thirdly, Jesus knows this will be tough but he tells the young man that if he really wants to live the goodness of God, then he must follow Jesus. This is moving beyond the commandments. Jesus is not a commandment. Jesus shows us most perfectly how to be the very goodness of God. But for that young man, there is a catch. In order to follow Jesus and live true goodness, he must let go of his great wealth. He must drop whatever might distract him so that he can follow Jesus completely. To follow Jesus is to enter into his new existence. Jesus’ existence is to be a wanderer and to spread the Gospel. He is mission-oriented. This is when the young man walks away sad. He cannot accept the challenge issued by the prophet Micah (6:8) so many centuries before, a challenge which Jesus lives: “what is good…but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
My sisters and brother, the result of this great gift will be the ability to share in the very goodness of God, looking to Jesus as a model of goodness, seeing God’s will as the most important guide for our behavior, and being willing to make Jesus number one in our lives, not eliminating other responsibilities but doing all to help him spread the Good News.