Our Quid Pro Quo
We can be a demanding lot, we humans. We often apply a cost/benefit analysis to everything we do. If we are honest with ourselves, we also often look at our relationships as a kind of transaction. We take a, ʺYou scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,ʺ approach, even in our most intimate relationships. And if we do this with one another, we will most likely take this same approach with God. And the irony is that we are never satisfied, we never experience the peace, the trust, or the comfort we most desire in our relationships. That is why this passage from Matthew’s Gospel is so important for us to contemplate and take to heart.
ʺJesus said to his Apostles: ‘As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for our belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.ʺ
The actions that Jesus outlines here: curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the leper, driving out demons, are simply the actions that he himself had done in their presence. Jesus is not asking them, or us, to do anything that he would not do. He is challenging our usual ʺquid pro quoʺ approach to life here. We are to do these things, as he did, out of a genuine, real love for the suffering other, without expecting anything in return. We are not to do them in order to gain praise, or financial benefit, or for rewards of any kind. We are to do these things because they are, by their very nature, morally good actions, and because they are completely ʺother-oriented.ʺ In serving others, we, at least temporarily, escape the narrow prison of the ego, we forget ourselves. If we do these things for some earthly reward, for some momentary pleasure, they will be utterly without grace. They may be ineffective, and ultimately meaningless. If, on the other hand, we do these actions out of love, out of true compassion for the suffering other, for God’s sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, there will be much grace in them and the Kingdom of heaven will be powerfully proclaimed through them.
As Christians, we are to go through our lives living this proclamation: ʺThe Kingdom of heaven is at hand.ʺ We know by faith, that the Kingdom of heaven is, in fact, ʺat hand.ʺ It is near us all the time. Indeed, we walk in its porches even now. God is here. He is not waiting in some far off place above the clouds. He is present to us in all of his creation. He has made of our hearts a dwelling place. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. If we truly believe this, we also believe that in acting in accord with that faith, we bring the Kingdom of heaven with us wherever we go. Yes, there is that place that awaits us when we ʺshuffle off this mortal coil,ʺ that is our dearest desire, our greatest hope to see; that place where we will be able to see God in the face, where we will do God’s will joyfully with all of the angels and saints in the heavenly community. But Jesus wants us to be the bearers of that hope in this world, here and now.
I will be the first to admit that this is very difficult. I am often aware of the childish desire in me to be recognized, to be praised for being ʺa good guy.ʺ But God has a sense of humor. I have, on more occasions than I care to admit, become aware of that impish, childish voice inside of me petulantly demanding, ʺLook at me. Aren’t I great!ʺ I suspect we all do. I think it is the grace of God working in my conscience that makes me aware of it. At those times when I become aware of that little impish voice, I see his foolishness and I am able to give it over to God. He and I share a good laugh and we move on. God knows that we are not perfect. Indeed, that is why Jesus came among us. When we are able to laugh at our own foibles, our own foolishness, we can know that we are truly in the graces of God.
When Jesus came from that place to dwell amongst us, he brought heaven down to earth with him. In doing so he lifted earth up to heaven at the same time. He, ʺWho, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped…[Who] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…,ʺ (Philippians 2: 6-7) showed us the love that is at the very core of heaven. We RECEIVED that love without cost to us. Now that we know the depth and power of the great gift we have received from God, without cost to us, we are, in turn, to GIVE that same gift to others without cost to them as well. That, brothers and sisters, is the economy of heaven. We are to give without expecting in return. We live the Christ life, not for ourselves, but for others, especially those who are suffering in any way. We honor the One who gives us life, and talent, and skills, along with intelligence and free will, by freely choosing to use all of these gifts to serve one another generously and selflessly, not to be served, or to be ʺraised upʺ in the eyes of the world. When we serve, those whom we serve ought, first and foremost, to see Christ, not us.
As the rest of the passage implies, we are to proclaim the Gospel everywhere we go. Sometimes the message will be welcomed, sometimes it will be rejected. When it is welcomed we can celebrate. When it is unwelcome, we are told to simply to ʺshake the dust from our feet,ʺ and to move on joyfully to the next town, the next human encounter, proclaiming the Good News with our lives. Worry not over what you can not do. Do what you can and let God do the rest. As Christians, we are called to do all things, ʺAd majorem Dei gloriam,ʺ ʺFor the greater glory of God.ʺ Amen.