No point doing good just to look good

HOMILY : 5th Sunday : Year A

When we look at the lives of famous and glamorous people, the sort of people that appear on TV and in the Gossip magazines, I expect part of our interest lies in the fact that we would like to be famous too. Yes, deep down in most of us, I guess, is a desire to be something in the world, to do something useful yes, but also to do something that gains us recognition and a more than decent income. I have this fantasy that if I were rich, I could create this charity and dole out money for any number of worthwhile causes. But then I question myself, or perhaps God questions me, and says “What would you be doing this for, Martin?” and after a pause, I hear, “So that people would think well of you?”

There is a famous story, that some of you may have heard before, about St Philip Neri questioning a young student about his future. “So what do you want to do with your life?” He asked, and the student said, “Get a good degree, and then find a really good job” “And next” said St Philip?  And the student replied “And then I would like to get married and have a nice house and a happy family.”  “And next” said St Philip.  “Oh well then” said the student “I would hope to do something worthwhile in society.” “Very good” said Philip “And next?” There was a pause, and then the student said “Well, I suppose I would like to have a comfortable old-age surrounded by family and friends.”  “Yes” said St Philip “And next?”

The message is clear. Whatever we do with our life, both in terms of employment and leisure, we Christians need to ask ourselves exactly what we are doing it for? We probably reject the idea that some have in the world, that all we need to do is to make us much money as possible! As Christians, I hope we soften that with the desire to do good, to help people in some way, as we heard in our 1st Reading (Isaiah 58:7-10) ; to share our bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor. And I hope that we would go further even than that, and aim to be salt for the earth and light for the world ; as Jesus said in today’s Gospel (Matt 5:13-16)

But salt and light are interesting things.  Salt is only good if it disappears into the cooking in just the right amount. Light is not meant to be looked at ; indeed bright light actually hurts our eyes. No, light is meant to light up something else, so that what we see is not the light but only what it is showing us. Or as Jesus says “seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.”

That is surely what Paul is getting at today (1 Cor 2:1-5) when he points out that his work of spreading the Gospel was not “with any show of oratory or philosophy”. No, he wants his listeners not to praise him, but to discover God. It’s why he writes further on in this letter, that everything we do, even the most ordinary things should be done for one purpose only. He writes, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) Yes, the cult of the celebrity is not a new thing. The world of the Bible was not that different. People were just as pushy then as they are now, and some had clearly already accepted this new religion, Christianity, as a way of showing off their cleverness or their power. We heard Paul say firmly to them last week “If anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord”, so clearly there was quite a lot of boasting going on!

This is a tricky area isn’t it? God wants us to use the talents he has given us. He wants us to flourish, to make the best of ourselves, not to hide away somewhere through a false sense of modesty! You might be surprised to hear that a sin that is fairly often mentioned in Confession by adults is lying. But by this most mean saying things about themselves that are not exactly true, to make themselves look better in the eyes of other people. I always tend to ask them whether they are sure that this is a sin. Are they really lying, which would be a sin, or simply trying to show themselves in the best way they can? Let me illustrate what I mean. We all know that if you want to succeed in a job interview you dress carefully and try to produce a confident performance, but provided you don’t deliberately lie about yourself, that’s fine.

So that’s the way we are called to live. To accept that we are ordinary yes, not to seek celebrity status, but at the same time to make the best of what talents God has given us. For in the end, done in the right spirit, and underpinned by honesty, integrity and prayer, all we do will glorify God.

 

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