By the time my students participated we were well into the philosophy of promoting self-esteem by never telling a child he was wrong about anything. The vast majority of the 1000 entrants received a superior, which simply meant he didn’t play or sing more than a few wrong notes. It had nothing to do with his musicianship or his artistry. If a judge handed out more excellents than superiors, he was taken aside and enlightened. As a result only a small handful of “very goods” ever hit the rating sheet, and news of a “good” spread like the plague, with exactly the same reception. Everyone knew that a “very good” wasn’t, and a “good” was just plain awful. Judges were actually forbidden to even look at the “fair” rating, much less circle it.
That may be why “good” means little to us these days. It is probably why we just read right over it when Luke calls Joseph of Arimathea and Barnabas “good” men. Luke did not use that term lightly; those were the only two times I found that particular Greek word used of a man.
So can we ever hope to become so good that term can be used of us, the same term that Jesus used of God? Only if, like God, that goodness becomes an intrinsic part of us, a goodness that exists no matter what happens on the outside, no matter what anyone else says or does.
Jesus seemed to expect it. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. Matthew 12:34-35. There is the word, agathos. A good person can only do good things if his heart is good, so if I am not doing them, something in my heart needs to be changed.
“But that’s just not who I am,” won’t cut it with the Lord. He expects us to change who we are. He expects us to turn that evil heart into a good one, one that is good the way God is good, simply by its nature. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Luke 6:35. There it is again, that same word, or a compound of it in this case, a “do-gooder.” If you want to be a child of God, that’s what you have to be.
Jesus makes it even plainer a little later. Becoming “good” is not an option. It is not something we can do on the outside, while harboring a heart of evil or malice towards others. It is not something we can do by rote without compassion. It is the thing that will determine our destiny. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your lord, Matt 25:21.
“Good” is a very special word in the Bible. It isn’t passed out profligately so we can keep our self-esteem intact. It isn’t bandied about simply because of good deeds or loud hallelujahs. It is a quality so deep that if one ceases to exist in this life, so does that much goodness in the world. “Only one is Good,” Jesus said, in the absolute sense. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t expect us to become good as much as is humanly, with a little help from God, possible.
And let us not grow weary of well doing, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10