I was in the village Chontal in Ecuador just before Christmastime last year, and one of the reasons for going this time was to bring bracelet gifts for the children there that had been made by some generous people back in Boston. Chontal is the place where the church was built that I had funded in my mother’s memory. It’s also the place where I’ve had the joy of doing a lot of others works in service of the people over the last 3 years as I’ve given my whole self, my skills and talents and weaknesses and personality and resources.
And some people notice: after bringing the bracelets to the school and the youth group, I was walking with a young girl Kathy on the way to give out the last leftover bracelets. Along with a number of other children there, I’ve known Kathy since she was tiny. As we walked by the church, she said to me, “Jerome, I want to do what you do some day. Jesus is going to reward you very much.”
I smiled as I walked, and then I said the only thing I could think of.
“He already has.”
If you look at what is written on the plaque in that church in Chontal, you will see that the gift of the donation was given for a reason. It wasn’t so that God would approve of me and I’d be ready for the judgment. If you read it, it says I did the giving “In Thanksgiving to God for His mercy.”
I got the reward first.
That’s why I do all the giving.
At the Last Supper, Jesus is going to wash his disciples’ feet. He says everyone has been cleaned by the word he spoke to them while being with him for 3 years. And then, after he dies, he’s going to rise from the dead and visit the disciples and they are going to be ecstatic. Then, they are going to spend some time behind closed doors, until finally the Holy Spirit comes.
It’s only after that – after all that – that they are going to go out and bring good news and do all the great serving and lifting up of others.
Only after first receiving the reward.
See, I think I’ve been around the block in the church, and I think we have a big problem. We don’t really know what it is like to receive the gift that God wants to give. In the church, we think we’re supposed to be good people, do the right thing, fulfill our obligations, etc. etc. We think we have to somehow perform well and earn God’s love and approval, so that during life and at a later time of judgment, we’ll have God’s approval.
But who wants to receive the reward first?
The next time you wonder about what you’re doing with your life, what direction you should take, when you feel the pressure of being a good parent or friend or student or employee or Catholic or Christian, remember …
You’ve got to receive before you can give.
And God gives the reward first.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Lk 7:47)