Beyond Being Good
Something for Christians to Think About

As I was looking at the gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day (Matthew 6:25-33) I couldn’t help but notice how well it applies to our own lives, especially after the downing of the Russian Airline in the Sinai and the terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali.

Of course, such things cause us to worry that we may be seeing just the beginning of a greater crisis with terrorists attacks taking place near our own homes. We want to do the right things to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. After all, we want to believe we’re good people.  Certainly, protecting the things we love seems to count as a pretty good thing to do.  But, there may be a problem with this.

 Throughout the gospels, Jesus constantly seemed to be at odds with Pharisees and Sadducees. They just didn’t appreciate Jesus' telling people to go beyond simply being good. The Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were very good since they tried very hard to follow all the laws laid down in the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, “Pharisee” comes from the Hebrew word that means “separated ones,” because the Pharisees separated themselves from those who they thought broke those sacred laws. Likewise, “Sadducee” comes from the Hebrew word that means “righteous ones,” because they truly believed they were doing everything they could to be righteous, compared to the many sinners around them.

The fact is that Jesus never had anything against a person being good. What Jesus had a problem with was when people used being good as a reason to exclude others – especially the hungry, thirsty, naked, sojourners and strangers, homeless, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25). Over many years, Pharisees and Sadducees had gradually created a theology that made excluding such persons part of what they thought was being good. So, as Jesus criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees for their version of goodness, his teachings and ministries brought on a very negative reaction from that crowd, a reaction that eventually led to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

So, here we are, today, in the midst of the world’s turmoil, worrying about what we should do to protect ourselves against terrorists who might somehow find their way to our country pretending to be Syrian refugees.

It would seem to be the right and good thing to keep all of them out, to send them to some other country, or even back to their own country. After all, if only .01% of them were terrorists, a lot of harm could be done. Even though there may be a variety of ways to determine whether or not a person is really a terrorist, we might think it bad to take any chances, whatsoever, even if it meant excluding and rejecting thousands of innocent refugees, many of them widows and children.

Of course, we want to be good – but, good like the Pharisees were good? Good like the Sadducees were good?  No.  Jesus wants his followers to do and be more than good – to take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, strangers, and imprisoned.

Well, that wasn't that a novel teaching?  And, of course, it made people worry that something horrible might happen to them if they did those things. That is precisely why he said these words:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:25-33).

Sometimes we Christians take what we think is good for us, our families, our communities and our country and confuse it with what God calls us to do “for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”  We may think that what we’re doing is good, but, Jesus made it quite clear that Christians need to go beyond simply being good to following his commandments to love others without conditions.

If we can’t do that and constantly come up with "good" excuses for not doing that, are we Christians any better than the good Pharisees and the righteous Sadducees who hated Christ's teachings?

So, Jesus tells us not to worry about what it might take for us to risk loving others. God will take care of our life, our food and drink, our bodies and our clothes, because life is more than those things!  And, in the process of believing this we become as free as the birds and the lilies, unlike unbelievers who worry about these things all the time. 

Didn't Christ come to set us free?  Welcoming Syrian refugees, even while being cautious, is what Christ would have us do.  It ranks right up there with walking the second mile and giving your shirt and coat to someone who only asks for your coat.

If we strive for God’s kingdom, God will provide.

-- Rev. Paul G. Donelson