O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven,
and whose sin is covered.
Happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile.
For I held my tongue;
my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long.
Your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up like the drought in summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and my iniquity I did not hide.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all the faithful
make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
in the great water flood, it shall not reach them.
You are a place for me to hide in; you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with songs of deliverance.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.”‘ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
Jesus said: Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Users of the English language have terrible problems with the word ‘good’. As an adjective, the dictionary provides us with over thirty meanings to this simple word that we are sure we understand so well. As a noun, we are still expected to be able to navigate our way around at least a dozen meanings. Each of these many meanings carries its own subtle nuance depending upon the context in which it is used, but each can probably be reduced to an assessment of either quality or quantity, or both.
We speak of things being ‘good’ when we are referring to behaviour, competence or ethical probity, just as we use the same word to speak of quantity and there being a ‘good deal of something or the other’. We also turn the word into a plural and use it to describe the things we amass around ourselves, and that very often distance us from the God who Jesus describes as ‘good’ in today’s reading.
Native English speakers seem to have an inbuilt awareness of the many and varied ways in which the word ‘good’ can be used. We do not seem to struggle with its manipulation and implementation. When that word, ‘good’, crops up in conversation we generally understand exactly how it is being used, just as we expect others to understand what we mean by it when we pepper our daily language with the same word.
Of course, the flexibility we apply to our use of the word ‘good’ devalues it. We should not be surprised to find that that is not the way Jesus uses the word in Mark’s gospel. The Greek word is agathos, which does not allow such a conveniently mobile interpretation. Agathos is far more specific in its meaning: ‘intrinsically good in nature’, or ‘good whether it can be seen to be so or not’. The word Jesus uses, and which we translate as ‘good’, is about a purity of nature which can only ever be seen as belonging to God, no matter how hard we try to apply it to others, or even to ourselves.
The big question we need to ask ourselves today is how we can aspire to achieve the ‘goodness’ spoken of by the man who ran up and knelt before Jesus? We all wish to be seen as being ‘good’ people. To achieve this aim, however, we all need to examine how we live out our earthly lives. Jesus says: how hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. This unequivocal teaching is very hard for us to assimilate into our daily lives, but these difficult words of scripture will not go away because we find them challenging, they stand at the heart of Christ’s call to love and serve.
I do not believe that Jesus is calling us to live a life of poverty, but he is calling us all to prioritise how we view the ‘wealth’ we gather around ourselves. Every single thing we either possess or desire to possess, whether physical or emotional, is a gift from God. We should never lose sight of that fact, just as we should never lose sight of the call to put God before anything and everything else to which we might attach value.
God calls us to serve him in this world of sin and greed. Let us pray for the strength to keep him as our final goal, and not the acquisition of worldly wealth. Let us pray that we might not join the man who ran up and knelt before Jesus, in turning away from the true path because the pull of our worldly priorities overwhelms our call to follow God.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray for guidance and grace to follow the way to eternal life.
God of goodness, you inspire our hearts to reach beyond personal wealth. Grant that your Church may be inspired by the treasure of your eternal presence, and teach us to place our trust in your grace and mercy alone.
Have mercy on the world where so many trust in riches and seek continually to increase them. Guide those who control the wealth of commerce and the finance of nations to use their power wisely, setting aside the love of gain and showing compassion for those in need.
Help us, our families, friends and neighbours, to use well the money entrusted to us, whether it is much or little. Give us grace to use our resources for the benefit of all and the relief of need, and so gladden the hearts of all your people.
Your love sees our strength and our weakness. Have mercy on those who through their passion for material things have lost their way in the journey of life. We pray too for the poor of the world, for those in debt, for those whose lives are a daily struggle to survive. Strengthen and uphold them in their troubles.
Be merciful to those who have died still trusting in the wealth of this world. In the infinite mercy that makes all things possible, receive them and all departed souls into the kingdom of heaven.
We pray in the name of Christ, the teacher of wisdom to all who seek him.
Prayer for the week
Grant us, O Lord,
the faith that rests not on signs and wonders
but on your love and faithfulness;
that obedient to your word
and trusting in your promises,
we may know your peace and healing power,
both in our hearts and in our homes;
for the honour of your holy name.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Jesus, good above all other,
gentle child of gentle mother,
in a stable born our brother,
give us grace to persevere.
Lord, in all our doings guide us;
pride and hate shall ne’er divide us;
we’ll go on with thee beside us,
and with joy we’ll persevere.
Percy Dearmer (1867–1936)
partly based on John Mason Neale (1818–1866)