Year B Proper 23: Some novel assistance

Some further deliberations on the rich young man gospel (Mark 10: 17-31), with help from a Nick Hornby novel.*

(Sunday sermon spoiler alert!):

There’s a novel by Nick Hornby which I read some years ago called How to be Good. In it, the protagonist, an ordinary, grumpy, middle-aged man, undergoes a sudden transformation which makes him want to be a better person. It is a simple idea with profound consequences. From the first time he gives away his and his wife’s cab fare home from a night out, and she is horrified at the idea of taking the bus or walking home, he continues to push his family and neighbours (he doesn’t seem to have any friends, exactly) out of their comfort zones and into the realms of, at best, eccentric, and, in the eyes of many, crazy and irresponsible generosity.

It is definitely not a religious book, but it does get you thinking about what we choose to do and to neglect; where the gap lies between what we could do to change the world and what we do; and what our families and friends would think of us if we slung a rope across and bridged that gap.

The question raised by the book, and I think that it’s the same question raised by the rich young man in today’s gospel, is how good is good enough? How much do we have to do to say that we have done enough? How can we know that we have earned our place in heaven?


At the end of How to be Good, at least as I remember it, the protagonist is still trying to regain his balance; that rope bridge that he has thrown across the chasm between what he should be able do to change the world and what seems actually possible in the reality of daily, family life seems to be like a tightrope. Discipleship can place high demands on us, and it is an ongoing journey; we don’t resolve once to follow Jesus and everything else is easy; the way of the cross was never easy.

But unlike the character in the book, we are not trying this alone; we have a community of faith to help and to guide one another; and we do not have to rely only on ourselves to make things right. God alone is good, and we are called first to love God, and live into the goodness that God offers us.


*Nick Hornby, How to Be Good (Penguin (USA), 2002)

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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