I saw it coming... I did.
I could’ve stopped it, but I didn’t. I'm surprised that I didn’t turn my back to receive a pat as I let loose from lips, how good and saintly I was. What a reminder, that we are all susceptible to looking for the adulation of others.
Let me explain...
As per my usual day, I park my car in front of the courthouse where I work, in a spot they provide for me with more than enough time to engage in my gluttonous ritual of Dunkin Donuts coffee and other assorted menu items. As I step out of my car into the fairly brisk fall weather of a typical New York morning, a man approached me and asked for some change. To be honest, he didn’t look especially needy, but if there is money in my pocket, I usually give if asked. He takes the dollar and after a typical exchange of thank you’s and God bless you’s, my eyes followed his path right to the deli across the street. After a quick internal debate of whether to head to DD or not, I followed him in. He just finished asking how much a coffee was and New York City being what it is, the dollar I gave him was not nearly enough. He began to make his way out, when I motioned to the deli worker, who I know, to put it on my bill. After another quick thank you, the stranger grabbed his coffee and made his way out into the cold.
That’s when it happened...
I had to validate my good works and qualify my actions. It was like I watching myself from a distance. "I just gave that guy a dollar outside and when I saw him come in to buy coffee, I knew he wasn’t using it for no good." What the hell is wrong with me? Did I need to offer up that piece of information? Here I was simply engaging in an act of kindness and I turn it into, "look at me!" Hey, I didn’t want you to think I was doing something randomly nice. I wanted you to know that I was rewarding this man’s behavior. You should know that no one asked why I paid for his coffee. No one was amazed and wanted to know more. Just me, on my own, wanted to tell someone the tale of the "great coffee giveaway," that occurred just after the "Amazing free dollar extravaganza."
While it’s true I may be exaggerating a bit, I’m simply ashamed at how quickly I offered up this story to the deli worker. But, its par for the course really. I’m sure I’ve done it before, even if this was the first time I was self-aware of it. Nowadays, how many people "randomly" film acts of kindness? I don’t take away the kindness of the act or even the chance that filming it and placing on Facebook or Instagram may spur others on to more acts of kindness and love towards others. It just seems that it’s the norm for our society. We need some kind of acknowledgment of our good works. We can’t just do it. There’s an angle or a motivation. Some people truly go out of their way to film their deeds. It really is a "washing the outside of the cup" kind of thing. Obviously, this is not all people. It just an observation.
I’m sure I’ll tell this story again and eventually it will fade into my memory and be covered by dust and cobwebs with the others. But before it does, it reminds me. It reminds me of the two natures that exist in me. This "simul justus et peccator," aspect that wants to do good but can also twist it for fleshly accolades. It reminds me that I don’t, if ever, do things with the purest of hearts. It doesn’t remove the fact that what I did helped my neighbor. My preening over my actions to others doesn’t mean that in that moment I didn’t serve. It just reminds me that I didn’t serve as well as I’d liked. It means I take a knee and ask God to forgive the flesh in me that wanted to make more out of it for my pride.
Then, I remember that Christ served perfectly, loved unwaveringly and silently went to the cross for me. He did that, knowing my best works would be nothing more than exercises in futility when I become too concerned with doing them perfectly. He knew my thoughts would be far from pure, even if the intent was sincere. I’ll still serve and wrestle to serve well. I’ll pray that God makes me humble at the next opportunity and holds my tongue. I’ll know though, that however it goes, I am still His. I am still clothed in Christ’s righteousness and my best works, though like filthy rags, have no bearing on eternity and is no barrier in my relationship with the Father, whom I was reconciled to through his Son.