It’s not as simple as it seems – this business of doing good. Most of us want to leave the world better for our presence. We want to be part of the triumph of good over evil, of love over death. We want to offer the poor more than our good intentions and spare change.
That’s why some of us stay part of the church even when we might otherwise head for the hills. We suspect that we can do more good following Jesus together than apart. The impact of our lives shouldn’t be limited to our own paltry imaginations and pocketbooks, should it? We hope that our efforts toward making a world Jesus would be proud of are magnified by joining forces and that we make a bigger difference together.
I find myself deeply appreciating our collective strength these days. We’ve had more than the usual number of folks come to the parish seeking assistance lately – or at least it feels that way. For some, it’s as simple as a need for new clothes – a need that isn’t so simple when you have no money to buy them or to wash them once they’re yours. For others, the need is for rent or transportation or food. Sometimes, thanks to our Water into Wine baskets and Opportunity Shop, we’re able to meet the need in some tangible way. Once in a while we can do more.
Too many times though, the best we can do is listen with kindness, pray if welcomed, and offer a referral (many times to one of the local agencies we support in other ways.) That rarely feels like enough to me. It might meet the standard of doing no harm, but that’s not the same as doing good, is it? Doing good should feel better than that, right?
When Peter was asked to explain who Jesus was to a roomful of Gentiles, here’s how he began: “He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Sometimes we get so caught up in the more extraordinary aspects of Jesus’ life – the miracles, the physical healings, the whole death and resurrection thing – we forget that there are behaviors we can actually imitate. We too can do good without falling into the “do gooder” traps of naïve intervention and knee jerk guilt. But what might that look like?
Well, like Jesus, we can actually see people who are otherwise ignored and honor their bravery in asking for help. We can engage in authentic conversation and listen without judgment. We can feed bodies and souls, and sometimes we can help to heal them. And yes of course, like Jesus, we can ask the bigger questions about why people are hungry and homeless to begin with and not be satisfied with small answers that ask nothing of us. As an old boss of mine at Catholic Charities used to say, we can help to pull people out of the river and challenge the systems that helped to push them in.
Personally, I take comfort in the fact that Jesus struggled with some of the same challenges we face. Why else would he keep going to the deserted places, if not to get some relief from the overwhelming need? Once he let folks know he was “open for business,” the parade of need never stopped. His response was not to shoulder everything on his own or simply get paralyzed by the need and stop; no, he gathered a group of imperfect followers with their own sets of gifts and resources and sent them out to share the work. We’re here because we somehow heard that call and chose to follow.
The good news - the effects of our efforts aren’t measured by our feelings or whatever time frame we set for ourselves. Our attempts to add good to the world, to share love and bring hope in Jesus’ name – they ripple out far beyond our imagining – and yes, they are magnified when we join forces. May we have the grace today to see some of the fruits of our labors and trust that we do make a bigger difference together.