A young noble man came to Jesus and addressed him as “Good Teacher.” Jesus countered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God” (Mark 10:17-18). Why would Jesus answer the way he did to a person that wanted to be good enough to enter heaven? In the eyes of his fellowmen, the young man was good already because he lived by the Commandments. If the Commandments were sufficient, why were they not good enough for Jesus?

Being good is different from doing what is good. The young man may have been good but he did not necessarily practice his goodness. Jesus indicated that there was more to being good than merely keeping the Commandments. He believed in them, but he did not apply his riches to back them. It appears that the Commandments kept him from achieving a far greater good, namely becoming a disciple of Jesus (Mark 10:19-21). Like that young noble man, we too strive to be good but being good without deeds and sacrifices gains us nothing. For that reason Jesus joined the Commandment to love God with the one that includes the neighbor. It is our love or deed for each other that is transferred over into God’s good (I John 4:19-21).

Furthermore, Jesus distinguished clearly God’s good from man’s good. The two are as far apart as heaven is from earth. God by nature is good and so are His deeds. Whatever God has created was good (Genesis 1). James, the half-brother to Jesus capture the essence, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). What man did with what was good became a far lesser good. By nature man is inconsistent and irresponsible. He does not even trust himself. According to the Apostle Paul, there is a war between good and evil going on within each one of us (Romans 7:23). Without divine or spiritual assistance, we form a new kind of good that is mixed with a heavy dose of evil. This man-made good appears to be of God, but when it is tested, it contradicts what it intends to be (II Timothy 3:5).

The young leader was a legalist that kept him from being merciful. Jesus came to make the Law better by adding grace and mercy to it (John 1:17). The ruler belonged to a group of people that could rescue an ox that fell into a well but not help a needy or sick person on a Sabbath (Luke 14:5; Matthew 9:12; 12:7). For the sake of doing what is necessary and right, man like God must be merciful in dealing with debtors and transgressors (Luke 6:36). Jesus drove home his point in “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35). The king was merciful to the delinquent head servant and cancelled his debt. The head servant, on the contrary, did not forgive the servant below him and jailed him. The king rescinded his merciful act to the unmerciful servant and incarcerated him. Jesus concluded, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Being merciful is the greatest good we can offer to each other and to God. In fact, Jesus insisted that God would not accept anything less. And what better time than Thanksgiving can there be for being good to some one in need? Without being cognizant, we may assist an angel (Hebrews 13:2).