Monday, January 20, 2014

Charity (part three)

What must we do to do the works God requires? (John 6:28)

Most people dislike getting charity because it wounds their pride.  Accepting a handout can make you feel ashamed of your own inadequacy.  We would much rather be praised for our accomplishments than pitied for our failures. 

At one point in His ministry, Jesus was asked this question: What must we do, to do the works God requires?  Jews of the day were raised with hundreds and hundreds of rules to follow if you wanted to make God happy and earn His blessings.  Men who belonged to the party of Pharisees took great pride in how carefully they obeyed every rule and the public held them in high regard, treating them with honor and respect for their achievements.

We like to be recognized for doing something impressive.  It’s attractive to think of heaven as the place where our best and brightest are eternally rewarded.  To earn a place in God’s home—such an achievement would mean that you’re among the best of the best.  Who wouldn’t like to brag about that?

The thing is, our behavior is nothing to be proud of.  Even people who are the best examples of piety are still guilty of sin.  Swelling with pride makes us forget how much we need God to accomplish anything worthwhile.  Moments of fear show that we don’t fully trust in His power or love.  Flashes of anger reveal a disturbing lack of self-control.  Feeding our desires for earthly things shows a lack of good judgment, because when our attention is drawn to pleasures of the moment we lose our focus on eternal things.

According to the prophet Isaiah, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  No matter how good we try to be, it always gets fouled up somehow.  Thankfully, salvation does not depend on our getting it right.  Saint Paul tells us that [God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5).  When Jesus was asked what must we do to do the works God requires, His answer was blessedly simple: The work of God is this, to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:29).  Jesus went to the cross because He knew full well that without His loving charity, we could never gain a place of respect in His Father’s house.  We have nothing to be proud of, except that Jesus loves us.

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