For today’s readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032212.cfm
When I was in college at Humboldt State University, I learned about and began playing the world’s best sport, rugby (okay, so that point is debated by some, but it’s my blog after all). After our rugby games, the “green house” always hosted the rugby parties, but for regular socials, the “white house” served the purpose. I had just begun taking my faith more seriously, attending mass, and Bible study groups, but I continued to struggle with actually living my faith–especially in front of others…especially with “ruggers.”
I’ve always enjoyed being the center of attention, being “on stage.” No wonder I was so involved in acting while in college, and even did some summer Shakespeare festivals in Thousand Oaks, CA. So, I’m at this rugby party, standing on a chair with no fewer than thirty guys and girls eagerly awaiting the punch line to the greatest joke ever when, BAM!, I nail the punchline and the crowd erupts with laughter and applause! And then, just at that moment, by God’s grace, I have this thought, “I wonder if God is laughing and applauding too?” I felt so convicted. I realized at that very moment that if I was going to begin to take my Christian life seriously, I needed to start seeking God’s applaud and approval, not my rugby buddies.
Jesus tells the Jews in today’s reading, “I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you…How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” There is nothing Jesus condemns more harshly than hypocrisy and false religiosity. He has no patience for those that make a pretense of religion but in reality are firmly rooted in the things of the world and the approval of men to the exclusion of God.
Each of us is given a variety of gifts or talents that have a variety of uses. Make no mistake, however, the gifts of the Spirit are but for one primary purpose, namely, to build up the Body of Christ in order to better manifest the Kingdom of God in our world. Gifts of athleticism, intellect, compassion, acting, generosity, administration, service, humility, and/or charismatic personality are wonderful gifts, but so often can be used to do violence to the Kingdom of God, as opposed to building it up! I think of great actors or songwriters who make inappropriate, violent, and ugly movies and songs that encourage anger, rage, irresponsible sexuality, division and brokenness. St. Paul challenges us to use the gifts of the body for the good of the body and the world.
Even when we do use our gifts for the building up of the Kingdom, so often we begin to receive the approval and applaud of men for the good deeds we do to make the world a better place–and this is where the new danger exists as well! Even when we are doing the good deeds the Lord calls us to do, we might begin to do it for the approval of others instead of the approval of God. Jesus warns His disciples about this during His Sermon On the Mount in Matthew 6:1-18. He refers to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting when he says, “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
The lesson is clear, who are you trying to impress? All of our actions, both good and bad are under the watchful eye of God. Let us never use our gifts in a way that does violence to peace, unity, and wholeness, and let us always purify our motives that the good we do gives the glory to God and does not seek the reward of the world…it, after all, is passing, but the reward of the Kingdom is eternal. Amen?