And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 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: 31-36 (2nd Sunday of Luke)
There are two unhealthy things that, if we could let go of them as a society, we’d be much better off. The first is credit, and the second is holding grudges.
We are obsessed with credit. I can think of many examples from contemporary life, but here are two examples in the Orthodox Church that I frequently experience that I believe are spiritually unhealthy. First, our churches (and many other things) only get built because someone’s name goes on them. When someone truly gives, there is no credit needed. To exchange money to have one’s name put on a wall or an icon is an exchange of money for credit, not a true gift. I won’t belabor this because this is like swimming uphill against the current. This is the practice, I don’t see it stopping. However, if we have abundance, we should be giving, out of sense of gratitude, not because we are going to get credit. A gift is something that comes from the heart. A gift to the church is between you and God. And God will reward the secret things He sees us doing. In Matthew 6: 1-4, we read:
Jesus said “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the street, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The second thing I’ve been asked to do repeatedly is to sign required “community service” hours for high school students who either serve in the altar or sing in the choir. These are things that they should be doing automatically, not for any sort of credit. Community service as relates to the church might be participating in a church cleanup day, or going to visit a nursing home, something that is beyond normally expected behavior.
Today’s Gospel passage begins with the “Golden Rule,” “as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” In other words, treat others as you wish to be treated. But then the passage takes the Golden Rule to an even greater level. It tells us to treat others as God would treat them. In other words we are supposed to not only love those who love us, but love those who had us. We are not only supposed to do go to those who do good to us, but even to those who do bad to us. And we are not only supposed to lend to those who we hope to receive back from, but even to those who are not going to return our loan.
In the words of Christ, what “credit” is it to love people who love us? What “credit” is it to do good to those who are doing good to us? And what “credit” is it to lend to those from whom we hope to receive back. Anyone can love someone who love him back, or do good to someone who does good back or lend to someone from whom he will receive back. The blessed thing, the Godly thing is to love those who had us, do good to those who are unkind to us, and to lend to those who will not return our gifts. Christ tells us that our reward will be great, we will be credited by Him as “sons of the Most High.”
Are there times we all fail to love? Yes. Are there times we all fail to do good? Yes. Are there times we all fail to lend a hand? Yes. Then how should God treat us? Well, if we add up the amount of times we have failed to love, do good, or lend, it’s probably a lot of times and we probably don’t deserve for the Lord to treat us well. Yet, He is merciful and forgives us, even when we’ve been unkind and selfish. Therefore, if we expect His forgiveness, we ought to forgive one another. If we expect Him to still love us even when we don’t love one another, we ought to show love even to those who don’t love us. If we expect Him to still do good to us, then we should do good even to those who aren’t good to us. And if we expect Him to still lend His mercy and kindness to us, then we should lend to one another expecting nothing in return.
The ultimate expressions of Christian love are to be kind “to the ungrateful and the selfish” and to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Is it easy to do these things? No, of course it is not. This is part of the human struggle. However, we struggle, trusting in the heavenly reward, not relishing in the earthly credit. At least that is how it should be. Every gesture of giving shouldn’t be with an expectation of anything. There is intrinsic joy in loving, giving, and forgiving. And there is Godly reward for these things as well.
Lord, even if You stood on trial and suffered Pontius Pilate to be Your judge, yet You did not leave Your divine throne, seated with the Father as You are. And when You rose from the dead, You freed the world from servitude that was imposed on it by the Devil, O Compassionate who love mankind. (First Resurrectional Praise, Plagal 4th Tone, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Show love, kindness, generosity and mercy today, not expecting anything in return. God will give you credit, and in the end, that’s the only credit that matters!