(…continued) On the next level, there are the kind of reasons to be good that Tom Bodet is talking about. When you are with the same people on a regular basis and for a long time, you begin to care also about what they think about you, and about how your behavior is going to affect them. And even if you don’t like them, you know you have to get along. And so you begin to do the right thing not only for your sake, but for their sake also. As Tom Bodet says, “I act more decently than I probably would if I didn’t have to see these people again,” and he adds, “out here in rural American it is harder to avoid those people you don’t like. This makes us better than we would otherwise be.” And so he doesn’t act on his first impulse and blare on the car horn at Jenny Pendergast for not paying attention, because he can understand how a mother might become preoccupied with talking on the cell phone to her daughter who lives far away. And he knows Jenny from church, and he knows she a pretty good person, and so, there’s no need to be impatient or rude. He understands. And he’s also a little more likely to give the umpire at the little league game the benefit of the doubt on a called third strike on his son that ended the game, knowing that he’ll be seeing that ump at bowling Thursday night, and not only that, but that same ump is the one who helped him get his car started after church last winter when it was 25 below. These are all good and important reasons to do the right thing. Lots of people are always watching– people you know, people you care about, and people whose opinion you respect and whose continued good will is important to you.
Finally, at the deepest level, there is the most important reason for doing the right thing, which is because that is what God says we should do. He, after all, is the one who made the rules, and he did so not just to give us something to do, but because he is the one who has given us this world and this life, and he wants us to know how life is best lived, for our sake and for the sake of all of God’s other children. And if we care about what we do because the neighbors will see us, we most certainly should be concerned about what we do because the Lord God Almighty sees us.
17th century pastor Jeremy Taylor was having a talk with one of his parishioners about an affair the man was having with a woman in another city. Taylor said, “You leave your own town, and you go into the city to see your mistress. But you do not take your son along on these visits, because you do not want him to know what you are doing, and you are right to be so ashamed. But do you not consider that God sees and God knows all that you do, and that you have much more to fear from God than from you son, and much more reason to be ashamed before Him?”
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who goes away on a long journey, leaving his servants in charge of his money. To one, he gives five talents, to another, two talents, and to a third, one talent. A talent was a huge sum of money– one talent was the equivalent of 20 years wages for a laborer. Two of the servants invested the money wisely for the master, and they doubled the value. The third simply buried the money, giving back to the master the same one talent he was given in the first place. When the master returns, he is pleased with the conduct of the first two, but much angered by what the other servant did.
The primary message in this parable is that we are to use whatever God has given us to do our best to serve the Lord and do his business. But another thing Jesus is teaching us here is that not only does God expect us to use what we’ve been given to serve him, but also that God is watching to see that we do so. God, like the master, may seem absent for a time, but he is watching, he is keeping track, and when the time comes, there will be an accounting. Of course, parables like this always need to be read in the context of all that the Bible says about God’s forgiveness of our sins through Christ Jesus. But that cannot mean looking only at those texts, and not hearing the message of passages like this. On the one hand, it is very comforting to know that God is always watching over us, but at the same time, we should remember all of what that means; and it also means that he sees our anger and our selfishness and our impatience and our white lies and dishonesties, and all our sins. And we should be concerned about that and keep in it mind.
Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think about how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” One of the ways that is done in small towns is by keeping an eye on each other. Sometimes it is best to just not care what the neighbors think, but sometimes it is that very thing that helps you remember to do the right thing. But best of all, of course, is that we always and in everything care most of all about the fact that God is watching us.
Matthew 25:19 — After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
Hebrews 10:23-25 — Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I John 3:23 — And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
AN EVENING PRAYER: Our Father, we thank you for all the friendly folk who came into our life this day, gladdening us by their human kindness, and we send them now our parting thoughts of love through you. We thank you that we are set amidst this rich brotherhood of kindred life with its mysterious power to encourage and uplift. Make us eager to pay the due price for what we get by putting forth our own life in wholesome goodwill, and by bearing cheerily the troubles that go with all joys. Amen. –Walter Rauschenbusch