Am I a Good Person?

Am I a Good Person?


A question was asked in a recent comic strip as one character spoke to another, “Okay, Marcus, you don’t drink or smoke or cuss, but is it the absence of bad behavior that makes someone good, or is it the presence of good behavior?” I was surprised at the depth of the comment, particularly since both characters on that day’s strip are teenagers.

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. (Luke 18)

All too many of us are like the rich young ruler. We want to inherit eternal life by simply avoiding doing evil things. I hear people in church all the time saying that they do not do this or do not do that, as though that, by itself, is sufficient to ensure eternal life. As the comic strip asks, “… is it the absence of bad behavior that makes someone good …” That does appear to be the way that most who call themselves Christians would answer. Like the rich young ruler, they would say, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

In answering the rich young ruler, Jesus dealt with the question of what it means to be good. In essence, His answer was, “… the presence of good behavior.” If you look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it becomes even more obvious that merely the absence of bad behavior is not sufficient to make one good. Both the priest and the Levite have gone down in history as being bad rather than good. Their failure to take action was interpreted as evidence that they were not good. Their attitude was like that of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4) Neither the priest nor the Levite did anything wrong. They did not beat the traveler. They did not laugh at the traveler. In fact, they simply and deliberately did not get involved with the traveler. This is the perfect example of the absence of evil. I am sure that on the Sabbath, they went to the synagogue or the Temple and stood there in the complete conviction that they had not committed any evil. And, they would have been technically correct.

To use more modern secular terminology, the priest and the Levite would have argued that they only had a negative duty. That is, there was no requirement to become involved, and there might even have been a duty to not become involved so as not to become unclean by touching the blood of a person (see Leviticus). Neither priest nor Levite could have served at the Temple, for a time, if they became ritually unclean, particularly if they handled the blood of someone who soon died. They would have claimed that their only duty was to avoid evil behavior.

But Jesus argued that in order to understand the Law correctly (for both the parable and the encounter were asked and answered in the context of the Law), we have a positive duty towards people. That is, we have an obligation to do an act, to act, on behalf of others. The rich young ruler ended up not being considered good, because he failed to act. The priest and the Levite were not considered good, because they failed to act. Only the Good Samaritan is considered good, because he acted.

This has eternal implications for us. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, our Lord says:

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ …

“Then they [Ed.: the unrighteous] also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

All too many in our churches consider themselves to be complying with the Gospel demands simply because they commit no evil. That may be true, but if they also commit no good, then they are not in compliance with the Gospel, as Jesus preached it. Jesus more than once made it clear that we have a positive duty with eternal implications. This means that we are expected to commit acts of good. Absence of evil is not proof of good. Rather, the presence of good works is the proof of good.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+

About author

Fr. Ernesto Obregon

I am a Cuban. My sister and I arrived in the United States of America in 1961. I was nine years old at the time and my sister was five. Yes, alone. Our mother, a widow, put us on the plane in La Habana, and we were taken to an orphanage upon our arrival in Miami. No, I never lived in Miami for longer than about six months. Yes, we and our mother were re-united. She escaped from Cuba by boat about four or five months after we arrived in the USA. We were re-united and were sent by the Catholic Welfare folk to Ohio, where they had found my mother a job and us a foster home while she learned English and got situated. So, I grew up in Ohio, had a paper route, learned to build snowmen, and moved from place to place as out mother got better jobs. Eventually she met a good man and re-married and we settled into his house in Mansfield, Ohio. I was a 15-year-old teenager.

Needless to say, none of this was necessarily guaranteed to keep me strong in the faith, although my mother tried. I rebelled during my teenage years and left Roman Catholicism for some vague hippie philosophies and a lot of rebellion. By 1970 I had been expelled from college after my first year, a year in which I was very confused and quite directionless. When I returned to Mansfield in defeat, I was approached by a friend who had become a “Jesus Person.” He took me to this “farm” that was filled with about four middle-aged adults and lots of early 20′s Jesus People. One of those adults was a Southern Baptist pastor, a former Campus Crusade staffer, and uncomfortable supervisor of hippy Jesus People, and is now the Very Rev. Gordon Walker, an Archpriest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. His story, along with others whom I know, is chronicled in the book, “Becoming Orthodox” by the Very Rev. Peter Gillquist.

My journey was different. I eventually ended up as an Anglican priest, and a missionary. My wife and I served in both Bolivia and Perú, and our three intelligent and very perspicacious daughters spent a decade of their formative years in South America. I ended up as The Archdeacon of Arequipa of the Anglican Church of Perú, which is part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which is part of the Anglican Communion.

We returned to the USA when our children began to attend college, and I took a parish in one of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Within less than four years, we realized that this was not a Church in which I could doctrinally live.

It was at this point that Fr. Gordon Walker came actively back into my life and told me that it was time that I came into Orthodoxy. He was right, and I have been Orthodox ever since. I was ordained in the Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction, but am currently serving as an attached priest at a Greek Orthodox Church. God has blessed us. We have wonderful grandchildren. And we are truly blessed.