It’s not enough to be good, but to do good

Proper 17, 30 August 2020

In last week’s reading, Peter confessed, “You are the Son of the living God”; Jesus praised him for receiving divine revelation.  In today’s reading he was off track and was rebuked.  We need to be praised, and also corrected at times.  Jesus spoke of His death, suffering and resurrection; this was troubling to His disciples.  Peter said, “I can never let that happen to You”.  Why did he fall so quickly, and fear our Lord’s passion?

Peter represents all humanity, and how easily and quickly we can change.  He received something divine, but was unaware of its significance and needed instruction.  When Philip asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading, he responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”[1]  Peter wasn’t instructed regarding this revelation; the larger picture hadn’t been revealed to him, so he was confused and overwhelmed.  He’d heard the mystery of the divinity of Christ, but was surprised by the mystery of the cross and resurrection.  According to God’s infinite wisdom, plan and design, human salvation and redemption would be through our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection – we don’t know why.

We need to renew our minds

Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind Me, satan!  You are a hindrance to Me, for you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men.”  Thousands of thoughts come to our minds every day, but it’s in our power to set our minds on whatever we choose.   We’re admonished to set our minds on the things above.  Paul urged the Christians in Rome, many of whom had a pagan background, to offer their physical bodies as living sacrifices – as opposed to the Old Testament offering of dead sacrifices.  One of our Christian responsibilities is to renew our mind – the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, feeling, judging and determining.  Our spirit must be regenerated, the body offered as a living sacrifice, and the mind renewed.  This is not God’s responsibility but ours.  Our mind is renewed by the practice of wisdom, reflection on God’s Word, and the spiritual understanding of His Law.

Through the gift of discernment, our Lord immediately knew Peter’s words were diabolically inspired, and He wouldn’t have anything to do with them.  “satan” (the devil) means an adversary, an opponent to anything that is good.  He’s the ancient foe, the accuser of the brethren, the rebel who comes to steal, kill and destroy.  He seeks to pollute the human heart, turn creation against the Creator, and ruin our souls.  He seeks to take advantage of human weakness to accomplish his intent.  In our weakness we need to turn to the Lord and ask for His strength to stand against the evil around us.  The enemy uses deception, as with the first humans, to wreak havoc and perpetrate evil: history records both good and evil, sometimes personified.  From the disunity of the Church, to the abortion industry and the destruction of marriage… you can trace these things to their diabolical origin. 

Overcome evil with good

St. Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 5:15-18.  We should not be nonchalant or oblivious to evil around us, because it’s there to destroy.  Instead, we are to know God’s will for our life: this won’t simply come from heaven, but through spending time at Jesus’ feet as Mary (Martha’s sister) did: she chose what is good.  Paul encourages us not only to be filled with the Spirit but to be led by the Spirit.  Ephesians 6:13 says, Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  We are not to participate in the deeds of darkness, but to expose them.  This leads to the persecution of those who love what is good. 

Christians are to overcome evil, not with evil but with good.  This is what our Lord Jesus Christ did on the cross by yielding Himself to the will of God, denying Himself and taking up His cross.  For His followers, it is not denying our identity, self and life, but it’s precisely in giving our lives to Christ that we find identity, the true essence of self and life.  The cross we bear is the potential opposition we face for following Jesus and doing what He did. 

What love Jesus has demonstrated for us!  But it doesn’t stop there.  As a result of Jesus’ humility He was exalted (Philippians 2:9-11): before destruction comes pride, but before exaltation comes humility.

The second reading encourages us to do what is good, to do what Christians should do.  Our Collect says, “Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of Your Name; increase in us true religion…”  True religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”[2] To be a Christian is more than an assurance of going to heaven and living with God for eternity, and more than desiring to be a good person.  It is to do what is good, to make a difference in the world we live in; to shun evil and not participate in the works of darkness but instead do good.  Let us be a light to the world, not only with our words and worship but through doing good.  There’s no good in us except what God places us in us: there’s no one good except God alone.  As we learn to know who God is and as He places His goodness in us, may we do good to those around us.  Let’s make a difference by doing good, and fulfil our Christian vocation.

[1] Acts 8:28-40
[2] James 1:27

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