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Friday, October 4, 2013
Today’s Reading | Matthew 5:43–48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NRSV)
To be beneficent where one can is a duty; and besides this, there are many persons who are so sympathetically constituted that, without any further motive of vanity or self-interest, they find an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them and can rejoice in the satisfaction of others as their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however dutiful and amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth. . . . . [When one] performs the action without any inclination at all, but solely from duty—then for the first time [that one’s] action has genuine moral worth.
Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
Do you make a point of trying to do good things for others? If you’re like many others in this present age, it’s very likely that participating in activities that serve the common good is a regular part of your life. But have you taken much time to consider why you carve out that time and energy to do those good things?
The philosopher Immanuel Kant, in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, urged us to consider why we do good things. According to Kant, the morally superior actions are the ones that we perform simply because we should—not the ones we do because they make us feel good or the ones we grudgingly perform because we want to avoid feeling bad.
Kant’s approach to duty and morality is interesting, but I think that for us, as Christians, it falls short. Yes, it’s true that we should be willing to be “beneficent” as a matter of duty; it’s also true that we should perform that duty even when it results in no advantage to ourselves or when we are not immediately inclined to feel kindly toward the target of our beneficence. Jesus tells us so, right in the middle of our reading today. However, Jesus goes on further to give us a positive reason for doing good to others—one that moves beyond duty—and that takes us beyond Kant’s realm of theoretical morality. Jesus tells us to do good to others so that we can be like God, who is kind to us all.
In that difference of motivation, it seems to me, is revealed one distinction between being a good person and being a Christian.
Loving God, in whom we live and move and have our being, help me to recognize your ever-present sustaining of the world and your particular care for us, who have done nothing to deserve your goodwill. Lead me, by your providence, by the sacrificial example of your son Jesus, and by the inspiration of your Spirit, to acts of kindness toward others. Through them, make me more and more like you each day. Amen.
Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism
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