Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16 NRSV)
Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16 NRSV)
I was listening to the radio a couple of days ago and I heard a wonderful quote attributed to the author, Iris Murdoch, in which she said, “You can tell someone who lives for others by the haunted look of the others.”
Now, whilst there are a few people about spend so much time trying to organise other people’s lives that they put the fear of God into them, such people are not as common as might be suggested. (However, many years ago I did know a lady who spent so much time going all over the place looking after neighbours and friends that her own family were often abandoned to their own devices).
But one of the cruellest jibes you sometimes hear is when a caring person gets branded as a “Do-Gooder”.
Its cruel because it is a put-down and a way of dismissing the actions of that other person as inconsequential or even somehow ethically questionable. We hear it in connection with all kinds of topics, but it is an especially important topic for Christians because “doing good” is both a characteristic and a command of our Lord, and of people like St Paul and the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews.
Doing Good is our Christian vocation, and it forms the basis of the sense of Christian justice upon which our way of life and our ancient laws are founded.
To be sure, most people perform acts of charity and kindness for all kinds of mixed motives, but what matters is that Good is done – because doing good is the way of the Kingdom and is the direct challenge to the evil in our world.
So to be called a “Do-Gooder” should be a term of the highest praise, not a way of dismissing another person as irrelevant.
For Jesus, doing good was so important that he ranked it much higher than the observation of particular religious practices. The religious leaders were incensed that Jesus had broken the man-made religious laws of the day to carry out an act of pure compassion – to give a crippled woman her life back; but Jesus called out their hypocrisy, pointing out that this child of God’s chosen people deserved to be released from her bondage.
Our own culture prevents many acts of simple goodness taking place by treating them as what another author, Douglas Adams, described brilliantly and insightfully as an S.E.P.
An SEP is something which you can only see out of the corner of your eye. If you try to look straight at an SEP it disappears, only to reappear again as you begin to avert your gaze.
Oh, and the letters SEP stand for “Somebody Else’s Problem.”
So many of life’s problems, which could be significantly healed if we only decided to do some good are dismissed as “not my problem,” or “not our problem”.
Perhaps something topical might illustrate the point.
All this year (2015) people have been commemorating and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2.
At the end of that war there were millions of homeless, stateless dispossessed refugees from all over Europe and beyond.
Realising the dire need of so many people, governments (most of whom presided over nations whose economies were shattered by years of total warfare) and charities, including Christian Charities, strove to offer new hope to these broken people – new homes, new places to live, new communities. Despite the dreadful nature of a conflict in which so many died, basic goodness helped millions of survivors to rebuild their lives.
Scroll forward 70 years and we find several million more people fleeing from conflict or displaced from their communities because their faces don’t fit. But, we must ask, is there the same determination to help people who are so desperate that they will risk their lives to find safe havens for themselves and their families?
These are the forgotten people; the people nobody wants – because the prosperous nations of Europe, including our nation, have lost the political will to do good for its own sake. Could it be that we have forgotten what our predecessors stood for in that dreadful global conflict?
Whether it be personally or corporately, the words of the writer to the Hebrews should stimulate our thought, our prayer and our action: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Doing good is not about doing acts of charity to make us feel better about ourselves.
Doing lasting good may often require sacrifice of some form or another; for the wellbeing of others, for the healing of God’s world.