October 2, 2007

The Work At Hand

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:35-36

Is this not the heart of the Gospel? This reading from Sunday brought a lot to mind. There was a time in my life when I was in a program in which I had to do a kind deed for someone every day and then not tell them what I had done. How quickly my enthusiasm waned. Doing good felt a lot better with positive feedback. I wanted everyone to know I was capable of kindness, that I was more than just a roiling cauldron of rage. What I did not realize then (or for too many years later) was that in doing good for others I was saving myself. It was not at all about what their reaction might or might not be. It was about my motivation. Why did I do the good deed? Works without love are dead. Love without works is not love.

This desire for affirmation was, of course, my pride talking. I could not see beyond my own self and never really took others or their needs into consideration. I suppose I could say I was raised in a family rife with alcoholism and abuse on both sides. Or that sometimes I like things too much for my own good. But those are crutches. I am responsible for my actions as well as my inactions and part of this responsibility is being honest with myself.

In some ways I have made no progress in the piercing of my pride. Here is an example. There are times when going through a restaurant drive-through that I also pay for the order of the people in the car behind me. I believe the politically correct term is practicing random acts of kindness. Initially I believed this was a way of being generous without taking credit, almsgiving of a sort. But I did enjoy the look on the face of the person working at the window. I realize now it is still about assuaging my guilty soul, taking the road most traveled and avoiding the real work at hand.

There is a homeless man who sleeps on a bench in front of a shut down restaurant near my home. He is harmless enough but he is slowly drinking himself to death as he fights to quiet the war still raging in his mind. Not the funny Otis Campbell kind of drunk from The Andy Griffith Show. His is serious alcohol abuse. Leaving food there for him would be an act of mercy yet I do nothing. When I am called to be merciful I am instead merciless. My unwillingness to reach out, to go beyond myself is disgraceful. I am undone. Will they know I am a Christian by my love?


Anonymous said...

There are so many things a Christian needs to do. We see so many things that needs to be done. Overall, we are only human and our shortcomings are plentiful. Do not be so hard on yourself. We all have inner demons we wrestle with daily. Do what you can, love the Lord and be true to yourself. We are to strive for perfection, realizing we will never attain it in this world. Paul said it's not whether we win or loose, but how we run the race...grow in the Lord, like babes, milk first.

November In My Soul said...

Thank you for your wisdom. I am at times too hard on myself, but I would rather err on the side of critical self-examination instead of living a life unexamined.

We are also taught that to whom much is given, much is required. And I have been blessed beyond measure. Are we not called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? This homeless man, this veteran, is someone I see almost daily and where he sleeps is only a few blocks from my home. Am I not, as an Orthodox Christan, obligated to help? We are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving and above all to love. Not just those near us, but the ones difficult to reach, the smelly, bedraggled souls that too ofetn live in our society as invisible men, women and children. As we have done unto the least of these we have done unto Him.

My family and I were out eating at a restaurant last night. In walked the homeless man I have written about. I followed him out (he only got a cup of coffee to go donated by the restaurant owner) and offered to buy him something to eat. He said he had already eaten because a Jesus woman gave him a meal. Whoever this woman was, she is running the race.