Why do you do good?

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez, S.J. - The Philippine Star

Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).

This verse from our Gospel today gives us a great opportunity to see how a line from Scripture should always be read in dynamic tension with other passages.

For example, while helping the righteous is lauded, we should not forget about helping the unrighteous. As Luke 6:33-35 proclaims, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same... But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back.” The second part of this quote leads us to another aspect: While rewards may come to those who do good, they should not do good expecting rewards.

Considering rewards, we must also remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30: “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” With rewards will come persecutions. Just recall what happens to prophets.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling” (Luke 13:34). Prophets are killed – many times by those they were sent to help.

You may counter: “Still there will be a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands!” But are these given only to enrich you? Or are these also entrusted to you with the duty to care for them? These are gifts that come with responsibilities.

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

When we do good – not only to prophets and not only to the righteous, but also to the Jerusalems that persecute them – we should not just expect rewards but also responsibilities. Nor should we expect the rewards to be material. Jesus died poor. As the Gospels report, our Lord hung on the cross with nothing left to his name, not even his garments which the soldiers gambled for. Yes, it did not end there. We must not forget the Resurrection and the Ascension, but these also remind us that the rewards are not always earthly.

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

This verse can be used to justify the core message of the Prosperity Gospel, a movement that preaches if you believe in God and do good, blessings of wealth and success will come in good measure, packed together, shaken down, overflowing – siksik, liglig, umaapaw. All you have to do is name and claim what you want. But is what you want the be-all and end-all? And if you do good because you want to receive good things in return, are you really being good? 

The Prosperity Gospel can also mislead us into thinking that those who are rich must be believers in God who do good. We know that is not always true. What about the poor? Are they poor because they do not believe and because they do evil? Again, we know that is not always true.

If when you do good, you should not expect rewards and if when you do good, you may actually be persecuted, why then do you do good? Doing good, some people have said, is its own reward. Neuroscientists have observed that altruistic deeds activate parts of the brain related to pleasure. Their conclusion: Doing good feels good. I may not have an advanced degree in brain mapping, but everyday life has taught me that doing good can also make you feel angry, afraid, and lonely. So why do good? 

Why do good when others get away with doing bad? Why do good when no one or very few people will know? Why do good when it will not always be to your advantage?

I think it will do us more good to keep on wrestling with the question instead of settling down with a quick answer. Surf the web, ask people around you, and gather anecdotes about doing good that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Then challenge the reasons for doing good that you find. After doing all these, turn to Jesus in prayer and humbly ask him, “So… why do you do good?”

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