“There is only One who is good ...” (Matt. 19:17)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:16-17)

What does Jesus mean by 'good'?

The word "good" is subtle. If a person denies they are not good it means something different than if a person denies that they are not excellent or distinguished.

By someone saying they are not good, it often has another meaning - the person feels they are dishonest or not kind to people.

Jesus was not saying that he was not a good person.

Other Biblical versions translate Jesus' statement to something to the effect of, "Why do you call me good?"

This translation takes another tack, as it assumes the thing that is described as "good" is some action, rather than Jesus himself.

(Notice Jesus has no problem with being called “teacher” - translated from the Greek word διδάσκαλος.)

Yet Jesus does have an issue with the young man's use of “good.” Why?

Actually, "good" is not the most appropriate translation in this context. The word "good" here is being taken from the Greek word ἀγαθός (agathos). Yes, it can mean "good." But it can also mean "excellent, distinguished" and "upright, honorable" according to Thayer's lexicon.

This means the man is thinking that he wants to do something special - something distinguished or excellent.

But such a statement reveals a self-centered aspiration. To do something distinguished is to do something that others will respect us for.

And this is one of the diseases we see amongst some sectarian institutions. Some utilize the institution as a means to impress others. They use it as a platform to gain the respect and appreciation of others.

Thus if we translate this correctly, Jesus would be saying:
"Why do you ask me about doing something excellent? There is only One who is excellent ..."

If we prefer, we can replace excellent with distinguished or honorable. Each provides a similar result. These words describe greatness.

The result is that Jesus was taking a humble role, and giving praise to the Supreme Being.

Yes, Jesus was essentially praising God. He felt that greatness belongs solely to the Supreme Being.

Why is God excellent?

The Supreme Being is excellent because He is full of love, mercy, and kindness. He is understanding and forgiving. He is beautiful yet available to each of us.

Why do some deny the existence of the Supreme Being - or otherwise see Him as impersonal or far away in some other world? Because we want to be supreme. We want to be the center of the universe.

We simply have a hard time accepting that someone other than ourselves can be the center of the universe.

Even though it is clear we are not the center of the universe. We can simply look around us - at the more than seven billion other humans on this planet - and figure this out. We can simply consider the weather - which we cannot control. And we can look at our own lives - full of pain, disease, and eventually death - to understand that we have no control over things.

We aren't, in other words, the center of the universe, nor are we the controller of the universe.

But most of us refuse to accept this. This is why so many of us fight with each other over the control of property. This is why government leaders and their armies are fighting others for control over certain lands and populations. This is why there is crime. This is why there is no peace.

Because we are trying to gain control over things we do not own.

Only the Supreme Being owns this world and the things in it. Only the person who is in control over something can own that something. The Supreme Being controls everything, and thus owns everything.

Thus only the Supreme Being is distinguished. He maintains every distinguishing quality that exists. How could any quality exist unless it had an origin? The Supreme Being is the origin of excellence.

And God is the center of the universe.

What does Jesus mean by 'enter life'?

The word "life" is being translated from ζωή (zōē) - which means "the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate;" or "every living soul."

In other words, Jesus is speaking of spiritual life. The soul is our spiritual self. It lies on another dimension - the spiritual dimension. The soul is not simply a part of us - we are the soul. This is why Jesus also said:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)
Jesus was teaching his students that we are not these physical bodies. We are the living spirit - the soul - who is temporarily operating this physical body.

So instead of the man becoming great in the eyes of others - becoming distinguished or excellent - Jesus is stating that he needs to become a follower. Someone who is devoted to following the instructions of the Supreme Being.

This is the opposite of the desire to be excellent or distinguished in the eyes of others. Following the instructions of the Supreme Being means becoming God's servant.

This is our natural position. The Supreme Being created each of us to be His loving servant and playmate. But because He wanted us to truly love Him, He also gave each of us the freedom to love Him or not.

Those who are residing in the physical world searching for self-centered happiness are here because we decided we didn't want to love God. We wanted to love ourselves.

Accommodating our desire, the Supreme Being gave us these temporary physical bodies in which to play out our self-centered desires.

Unless we decide we want to return home to our innate loving relationship with the Supreme Being.

In that case, we must take shelter in the Supreme Being. This is what following His instructions are: Taking shelter.

In other words, one can either take shelter in their own mental concoctions of what we think will make us happy: Or we can take shelter in the Supreme Being in the form of following those instructions.

And what was the most important instruction or commandment according to Jesus?
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)