Both of my parents attended college during the depths of the Great Depression.
My father, fifth in a family of twelve children living on a dirt-poor farm, had his tuition paid by a pair of beneficent aunts. To raise money for books and living expenses, he put his card-playing skills to work. He financed his education by playing poker.
My mother lived at home with her parents. She had access to a car, however, and raised cash for her tuition by ferrying other commuting students to and from college, charging them a nominal fee.
Mom often told the story about a certain passenger who was continually late with her payment. This woman assured my mother she would pay her in full at the end of the semester, rather than paying weekly, as all the other students did.
On the final day of the semester, she asked Mom to wait outside of her house while she ran in to get the payment.
She dashed inside and returned with an old cracked vase, which she handed to my mom. “You’ll get your reward in Heaven,” she informed my astonished mother.
I hope Mom is finally enjoying her reward.
There are some verses from the sixth chapter of Luke that may be the hardest ones in the Bible to put into practice. Maybe Mom’s deadbeat passenger was referring to this one when she told Mom her reward would have to be delayed:
[L]ove your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
When I was a teacher, I was frequently asked to contribute to my students’ fundraising efforts or to purchase popcorn, cookies, pies, chicken barbeque, magazines, wrapping paper, or school-themed apparel.
I tried to live by these words from the same chapter: “Give to everyone who asks you“, but it got very expensive. I finally had to institute a policy where I gave only to the first student who asked.
Students were known to make a mad dash to my room when the morning bell rang so they could be the one to make the first request with each new fundraiser.
Once, while in Chicago to run that city’s marathon, a panhandler asked me for a dollar. I reached into the pocket of my jeans and handed him one.
When I pulled the money out, the corner of another dollar peeped out of the top of my pocket. The man, concerned for my safety in the wicked city, pointed this out to me, and I stuffed the second dollar back into my pocket. “Isn’t that worth another dollar?” he asked with a smile.
I smiled back and handed him the second dollar, knowing I had just been scammed. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.“
Giving to everyone who asks is difficult. As anyone who has ever donated to a mailed fundraising solicitation knows, responding to one appeal brings dozens of others in response.
Here is the point: reading the Bible is easy (relatively speaking); living your everyday life according to its precepts is hard.
And maybe that’s the point. It is supposed to be hard.
Taking the shortcut, the time-saver, the loophole is…well, it’s the easy way out.
Humans have gotten where we are, evolutionarily speaking, by using our big, sophisticated brains to figure out the most efficient way to accomplish our goals. We make tools, we use fire, we analyze, synthesize, and innovate.
Not only that, we live in complex societies. When learning to overcome the friction that naturally comes from complicated personal relationships, we find little white lies useful. They help us avoid uncomfortable situations. Who likes to be uncomfortable?
We also learn from an early age to repay in kind those who mistreat us. Getting ahead in life is not achieved by allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of.
But allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of is exactly what the verses in Luke urge us to do. I mean, pray for those who mistreat us? Really? Who does that? Lend money without expecting to be repaid? Do good to those who hate us?
Luke acknowledges that it won’t be easy. You don’t get credit, he says, for loving those who are easy to love and being good to those who are good to us. “Even sinners do that“, he says.
To earn favor with God and to be a good person, apparently, we need to dig deeper.
We need to be good even to people who don’t treat us well. We need to love those who are not particularly loveable. We don’t get a free pass to act like a jerk even when the other guy acts like a jerk.
Winning at all costs should not be part of our game.
Always looking for the easy way is not the best way to live our lives.
Or, as the hip-hop artist Lecrae says, “My faith is not identified by my title. My faith is identified by how I live. Wearing the uniform is not the same as playing the game.“
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