The List

canstockphoto2452497In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul lists what he calls “the fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity…wait, stop right there.

Look it up in your Bible, and it probably doesn’t say “generosity”, it probably says “goodness”. That’s what the King James says, as does every other translation except the New Revised Standard Version, which uses “generosity” instead of “goodness.”

The Greek dictionary says that the word in question means “goodness” but then adds “and perhaps generosity.” So obviously in the Greek mind there was some connection between goodness and generosity. Not only that, but the preceding word “kindness” can also be translated as “goodness.”

My goodness, there’s a connection between kindness—treating others well—and goodness—doing the right thing—and also generosity—giving more than is required or expected.

The hard part about goodness, or doing the right thing, is deciding what is the right thing. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes not so much. What I’ve discovered, however, is that nobody really likes it when someone else decides for them what is right and what is wrong. We like to do that for ourselves.

Now, religious people believe that God gets to decide, and that God’s decisions about right and wrong are contained in the Bible. That’s what the religious people of Jesus’ day believed also: that the Hebrew Scriptures were the written record of God’s moral absolutes.

And then, to help flesh it out, they wrote guidelines and laws that guided everyday life, so that there wouldn’t be any question as to what was right and what was wrong. In any situation, a person could know what was the right thing to do.

New situations kept cropping up, however, so the list started growing. And growing. And growing, to the point where you needed specialists who knew the rule book backwards and forwards. But new situations kept arising, necessitating the need for people who could look at these new situations and judge which of the rules and laws applied. And then you would have a new rule added to the list.

Eventually the list got so large that only the specialists, called scribes (lawyers) and priests (judges) knew the list. And the common person didn’t have the time to know the list, but how can you do the list if you didn’t know the list?

So knowing the list became as important as doing it, and since only a few knew the list, only a few were really good.

Knowing the list became synonymous with being good.

Good = knowing the list.

Here’s the thing: you could know the list, and even do the list, and not know God. That was the case with a lot of the “good” people Jesus met.

Look at those three words again—kindness, goodness, generosity. Two are relational words, one is not. Kindness—treating others well; goodness—doing the right thing, according to The List; generosity—giving more than is required or expected.

Kindness and generosity are relational, but goodness had lost it’s relational aspect.

Know the Book: necessary; knowing the Author of the Book: optional.

But If God is anything, He is relational.

In Luke 10:25 one of the lawyers asked Jesus a law question: “What must be done to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus asked him, “What does The List say?”

And the lawyer, knowing The List, told him.

Love God and love your neighbor. (The List, Abridged Version.)

And Jesus said, “Yep, you know The List. You must be good.”

So then the lawyer asked Jesus a List question that wasn’t quite covered in The List: “Who is my neighbor?”

And Jesus, as was his wont, told a story. We call it the Story of the Good Samaritan, but in fact, Samaritans weren’t good according to The List. The priest and Levite were, but not Samaritans. They didn’t accept as Scripture most of the Old Testament, nothing outside of the first five books.

So, according to The List, this Samaritan wasn’t good.

But he was kind, and he was generous, and being kind and generous, he was a neighbor, which meant, according to the lawyer’s own words, he would inherit eternal life.

Which meant that, in addition to being kind and generous, he must have been good, because only good people inherit eternal life.

And the two guys who weren’t kind or generous obviously didn’t love their neighbor, which meant they wouldn’t inherit eternal life.

So they weren’t really good.

Kindness, goodness, and generosity.

Can’t have one without the others.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / mills21

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