On Sunday Victoria, Ryan, Elliot, Sam, Adriana, Jacob, Aaron, Rich, Nicole, Kurt, and I served Sunday Dinner at St. Vincent de Paul in Middletown. We are so grateful to everyone who donated so that our congregation could provide 160 meals for those in need. Every time we have a direct service opportunity like this, I tend to give groups a heads up. Some people we serve will be grateful and say so. Others are hungry and having a hard time for various reasons, and they might or might not express gratitude. So if the reason that we go to serve at a soup kitchen is to receive gratitude from others, perhaps we can challenge ourselves as to our motivation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing to serve these meals. It takes a lot of work. And we can go home at the end of a long Sunday knowing that folks won’t go to bed that night with empty stomachs.
But why do we do it? Jesus once told a parable in Luke 18 about the Pharisee and Tax Collector. Both people went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee sees the Tax Collector and begins to pray, saying that he’s so grateful that he’s not like other people—thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even this Tax Collector standing next to me. Then, he lists his qualifications for God to remember—I fast twice a week and give 10% of all my income to the Temple. Look at how awesome I am, God! Meanwhile the Tax Collector is far off and not even looking up to heaven. He’s beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) That’s it. Not comparing himself to anyone else and not listing out all the reasons he’s amazing. Jesus says that the Tax Collector went home justified and not the Pharisee because all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
It’s important for us to check in with ourselves about our motivations, to emulate the humility of the Tax Collector. We can ask—am I doing this good thing for recognition and for other people to see how great I am? Do I believe that God is keeping a list of all my qualifications just so I can be rewarded? Do I serve meals to those in need so that I can be thanked and praised for this act of service? I think that Jesus calls us to serve others because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what we’re asked to do as his followers—to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Just something I’ve been thinking about this week.
(This Week’s Thoughts 10.3.19)