07 October 2014
Why be good? Homily on Luke 6:31-36
There’s an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin complains to Hobbes. “Why should I be nice to other people?” he asks. “Sometimes I think I’m just good for nothing.” Hobbes answers, “I often think you’re good for nothing.” Before Hobbes’ funny line, Calvin raises an excellent question: “Why should I be good?”
The difference between the life of a disciple and that of an unbeliever is not in what they do. Sinners love, Christ says, and saints love. Sinners do good, and so do saints. Sinners lend, saints lend. Outwardly there’s little or no difference at all. And that’s thrown many people for a loop. Prominent atheist writers claim we can have ethics without God. And if by ethics they mean, “decent outward conduct,” they have a point. So if I can be just as good without Christ, then what’s the point of believing?
The answer’s simple:
Christ didn’t come to make us good;
he came to make us God.
So he says, in today’s text, “Lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”
What does it mean to be a “son of the Most High?” It means to be a member of the divine household, sharing the divine life, and light—and love. The acts are the same; but the expectation is completely different.
What do you expect when you’re good to someone? There’s an easy way to tell, but it can be very painful. When someone neglects me, ignores me, forgets to say “thank you”—how do I respond? If I act hurt or wounded, if I withdraw—indeed, if there’s any change at all in me toward them, then I didn’t lend expecting nothing in return.
And how do I love my enemies? If love is a feeling, it’s impossible. How can I feel good about people who are trying to hurt me or kill me? Only if love is a commitment, a decision to do good for another human being—only then can I truly love my enemies.
But how can I love enemies, and lend expecting nothing in return? Remember: Christ didn’t come to make us good; he came to make us God. If we tried to do it in ourselves we would fail, as miserably as the disciples did when they went fishing after Jesus’ resurrection.
But we are not in ourselves any more. Our old life, with all its expectations, died when we were baptized. “I have been crucified with Christ,” says Paul, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Of course, this isn’t automatic. Since I have been crucified with Christ, I must crucify my sinful passions and not feed them. Part of that crucifying is to remind myself, day after day, of my changed expectations. Gone must be the expectation to get something back for things I give. Gone must be the desire for vengeance on those who have hurt me or mistreated me.
And just there is the point of sharing God’s own life. He freely gives me all he has, in Christ his Son; only by releasing my grip on my possessions am I free to receive the gift of his care. Only by seeking and serving my enemies can I know the kind of love God has for me. Christ reconciled us to the Father while we were enemies, and dead, and blind; how could I not let go of the grudges I carry?
Christ calls us to great things, humanly impossible things, in our lives as individuals and our life together as a parish. But what is impossible with men is possible with God. Let us therefore, as Fr. John said last week, not receive the grace of God in vain, but hold it fast. Let us learn the love of God in practice here, so that we may be made perfect in love hereafter, through his grace and love for mankind always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.