Jules Does

Jules Does Lent: On Gratitude

Posted on: February 24, 2016

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A short meditation tonight, I think.

Today’s Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament readings all have something significant in common: they touch on the deep problem that lies at the heart of all religions, namely the problem of evil, particularly when that evil happens to good people. Both the Psalmist and Jeremiah complain to God that the evil majority are plotting their downfall, and that the power of God now is their only hope for deliverance. Jeremiah’s prayer is especially poignant: he is being persecuted by the same people whom he defended before God. Talk about ingratitude.

In keeping with yesterday’s theme of humility, in the reading from Matthew today Christ reiterates how the Messiah must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the very hands of the people whom He was sent to save. And, of course, the disciples miss the point again. Rather than focussing on how the climax of Jesus’ ministry was to be His execution, they squabble over their exact placements in the throne room of heaven. All that Christ can say for certain, however, is that the sons of Zebedee (whose mother is the rather uncouth person who asks Christ for heaven’s seating plan) will suffer and die as He himself would. Moreover, he tells them all that the whole concept of heaven is bound up in the servant being greater than the master, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, that if they want to be first in heaven then they must be the servant of the very lowest person on Earth, giving their very all as He Himself was to do.

I think sometimes that when we do something good for someone, we expect gratitude or goodness in return. We expect the homeless person to smile gratefully after we give them 50p; we expect people who live on state benefits to behave better than we would expect anyone else to in order to make them somehow more deserving of the state’s support; we expect the outcast to be grateful for our company; we expect the feet we washed to stay clean, or at least not to kick us. When we don’t encounter the gratitude we think we are owed, it is tempting to stop doing good, to stop being the servant of all.

But what is it that we can learn from both Jesus and Jeremiah today? It is that sometimes we are humble and good to people who maybe don’t act very grateful, and maybe it makes us wonder whether it was worth being good to those people in the first place. Maybe, like Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren says in the above gifs, we feel that people who don’t have the good sense to respond to love with love simply don’t deserve love in the first place. And you know what, maybe they really don’t deserve it. Or perhaps questions of who deserves or doesn’t deserve love are irrelevant. Perhaps instead what really matters is our behaviour and not the reaction of others, either for good or for ill. The gratitude or otherwise of the recipients of any good deeds we might do is irrelevant.

These readings got me thinking of this quotation by Kent Keith that is often attributed to Mother Teresa (it was painted on the wall of her House in Calcutta), and I will leave you with it today.

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