Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sermon on the Mount 12: The Power of Invisibility

Scripture: Matthew 6: 16-18

Focus: In secret

Reflection: Fame is fleeting. Little famebursts are even more fleeting.

It would seem that there is a human desire to be recognized as a good person. I have this desire. I bet you have it as well. I want to be good, yes, but I want to seen as a good person. And here is the thing: many people recognize good when they see it. It is the reward they give to other good people for being good.

So there is a system in place. A person does something good, another person notices it and then provides a small reward for the good person’s goodness by recognizing their goodness. The good person receives this recognition and feels good. And through this positive reinforcement, is likely to produce more good.

When a not so good person notices the pattern, he might also notice that what can get him some good feeling recognition is getting the other person to believe that he is a good person. Truth is not relevant, but appearance must be genuine looking. Energy is spent manipulating the system of goodness and recognition rather than actually being good. Good-appearing behaviors strategically placed in front of the eyes of good-recognizing people can result in a little fameburst.

I confess. I manipulate(d) system.

My motives to accomplish some good in this world are not always for the goodness of the good. I have desired and even craved recognition. I want to be noticed, to be honored, to be thought of as good. I want to be good and for that to be enough. Sadly, it doesn’t always turn out that way.

In fact, I have used this system as a means to resolve my own feelings of guilt. I carried guilt. I hated it. It felt bad. So, I tried to make up for guilty feelings by doing good. I figured if I did enough good then I would be able to feel good and not guilty anymore. I also figured that when I went about doing good that I needed someone else’s recognition of what I did in order to legitimize my goodness. If what I did was noticed by another and labeled as good, then I would feel good. If I felt good, I could forget about my guilt.

The problem was that the good feeling was temporary and the guilt was not.

Goodness doesn’t make up for guilt. That’s not how it works. Guilt is the emotional pain that indicates something is wrong, not a random feeling to get rid of. I was using my ability to perform goodness as a means to control pain. Goodness isn’t too great a painkiller.

Goodness is legitimate when it is accomplished for its own end. Rewards are not merely secondary, they are irrelevant. The power of goodness is in its invisibility.

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