From THE BOOK MINISTRY OF HEALING by Mrs. E.G. White – copyright 1909.
“A Path to Genuine Compassion” via Andrew Dalby, from the Spring 2006 issue.
We all want to live a good life, a life that is also good for others. We all want to advocate for the disenfranchised, care for the environment, live healthfully and give generously to causes in need. Each of us desires to be “a good person”—to make the world around us a kinder, gentler place. But all too often, we fail. We do just a little bit more than nothing.
Why? It’s hard to say. And so we examine our hearts. Just what is our motivation for doing good things?
Say you host a dinner party for your friends. You decide to serve dinner on your finest china. It’s a bit dusty, so you decide to wash it. Do you clean just the outside, since only the outside will be visible to everyone at the party? No, of course not—the main point is to clean the portion of the dish that will contact your guests’ food and drink. In Jesus’ day, the spiritual superstars of Judaism made sure that they appeared morally upright—they devoted their time to “washing the outside of the cup.” Jesus responded to the religious elite by exhorting them to worry about the inside of the cup first—to examine their motives for their good deeds so that the good deeds would follow in a genuine manner. The teachings of Jesus, at their core, are not a list of do’s and don’ts; they are very simply a message of love. But simple isn’t easy: if you are going to do good things in the world, you must also do them for the right reasons.
I’m often incapable of aligning my actions with my motivation. If I help someone else, I often grumble silently—or, I think about what a good person I am. Beneath the surface, my reasons for helping others are actually egocentric—a way of gratifying myself. My actions, fundamentally, are guilty of hypocrisy. At this point Jesus’ teachings seem to part with other religions because, instead of telling me to work harder, they tell me that I am incapable. Jesus tells me that I am a ‘beggar.’ Where is the hope in that? I believe that Jesus gave up his life in order to liberate people, including myself, from egocentricity. Each day, I am faced with my own inadequacy—and I am also faced with my inability to transcend my egocentricity; these two realizations cause me to focus on Jesus as my hope. He is my source of compassion and love, truly enabling the restoration of my world.
To restore the world around me, I must first be restored. I can only shower love and compassion on others because I myself have been showered with love and compassion. When I cling to these ideas as motivators for my good works, my motivation becomes more than a hollow shell. These ideas are the nuts and bolts of my life as a follower of Jesus. When I become self-important through my good works, I am sobered by my inadequacy. When I become lazy I am reminded that I have already been helped—that I am only a beggar, showing other beggars the bread.
Andrew Dalby will be in Church next Sunday: andrew.dalby [at] gmail.com