In today’s gospel we read:
“Your light must shine before all,
so that they will see the good things
you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
From a book called “Out of the Saltshaker”
by Rebecca Pippert, (Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove IL)
comes this true story
of an unusual young man.
John was in his final year of college.
He was a brilliant new Christian
and a bit different from other students.
His entire wardrobe for four years
consisted of a T-shirt, blue jeans
and no shoes.
Across the street from the campus
was a very conservative church,
attended by well-dressed parishioners.
John padded through the front door.
The service had already begun;
John walked slowly down the aisle,
searching for a seat.
As he neared the front, it became clear
that no empty seat was available.
So John squatted on the floor
in front of the pulpit.
While this was acceptable in a dorm,
it was hardly acceptable in this conservative church.
You could feel the people glare.
Even the pastor stopped preaching,
wondering what to say or do.
Just then, a deacon in his eighties –
dressed in a tailored suit
and using a cane – began to walk
from the back of the church
down to where John was seated on the floor.
All eyes were focused on the deacon.
His cane clicked with each slow step.
He was a dignified man with silver hair,
respected by all.
How could someone like him
understand someone like John?
As the deacon reached the spot
where John sat,
Eeeryone stopped breathing.
What he was about to do
was a thankless job, but it had to be done.
Even the pastor stopped preaching
until the deacon completed his task.
Looking down at John,
the Deacon dropped his cane to the floor.
Then, with great difficulty, he eased down
onto the carpet and sat beside John.
He wanted to make him feel welcome
and not have to worship alone.
When the pastor gained control of himself,
he said to the congregation,
in a voice choked with emotion:
“What I have prepared to preach to you,
you’ll never remember.
But what you just saw,
you’ll never forget.
This story fits in beautifully
with today’s Gospel where Jesus says:
“No one lights a lamp and puts it
under a bowl; instead it is put on
the lamp stand, where it gives light
for everyone in the house.
In the same way your light must shine
before all, so that they will see
the good things you do and
praise your Father in heaven.
Someone has pointed out
that there are three motives why people
do good things – such as the deacon did:
pleasure, practicality or pure love.
Let’s take a look at each:
In his famous Christmas Carol,
Charles Dickens describes how
Ebenezer Scrooge responds to people
after his conversion. Dickens says:
“He went to church. . .
And patted children on the head
And questioned beggars. . .and found
That everything could yield him pleasure.
He never dreamed. . .that anything. . .
Could yield him so much happiness.”
People have felt the same way when they’ve
volunteered to help out in prisons,
soup kitchens or retirement homes.
And so the first motive why people
do good things is because it makes them
feel good. It brings them pleasure.
The second motive why people
do good things is out of practicality.
A politician once said:
“Love your enemies, because someday
you’ll need them as friends.”
That is clearly a practical motive.
Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor.
When the Nazi’s came to power,
he was reluctant to speak out at first.
When he did, he was arrested and jailed.
He said in a famous statement:
“When the Nazi’s came for the communists,
I didn’t speak out
because I wasn’t a communist.
When they came for the Jews,
I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. . .
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me. . .
and by that time
there was no one left to speak for me.”
So the second reason for doing good is
practicality: If I want others to help me,
I’ve got to help them.
This brings us to the final reason:
the reason the deacon
sat on the floor with the college student.
He probably got no pleasure out of it,
nor was there much John could do for him.
He simply did it because it was right.
He wanted to make John feel welcome
and be treated in a loving way.
People who do good things
usually pass through three stages.
First, there is the fun stage.
That’s when they say, “I love doing this.
Why did I wait so long to get involved?”
Next, there’s the intolerant stage.
That’s when they say,
“Anyone who doesn’t get involved
isn’t really a true Christian.”
Finally, there’s the reality stage.
That’s when they suddenly realize
that their involvement
is only going to make a dent
in the world’s problems.
At this stage, saints are made.
So what motivates people
to do good things
follows a pattern similar to what
is said generally, about commitment.
First, it’s pleasurable.
It makes us feel good.
Second, it’s practical.
If we help others, they’ll help us.
Finally, it’s out of pure love.
It’s why the deacon helped John.
Let’s close with a prayer
attributed to St Ignatius Loyola.
Lord, teach me to be generous.
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labor and not to ask for reward,
except to know
That I am doing your will. Amen.