Lent begins this week: Shrove Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday followed by the laborious weeks of Lenten Sundays. But the week itself begins with the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, and the readings point to the essentials of faith and choices. There is the stirring Gospel account of Jesus healing a leper who is asked to tell no one, but who simply cannot contain the joy of the change. There is Paul’s urging to do everything for the glory of God in the second reading from 1 Corinthians. And there is the rebuke of the lepers in the Old testament reading: their task would be to stay away from others for the good of all. So what is it all saying?
Our lives are not lived in isolation: as human beings, we belong to and with one another. We share strengths and flaws, illness and disease, hopes and fears. We act each day, making choices that impact others with or without that recognition or acknowledgement. And what we do, how we do it, matters. Putting others before self is a tall order, yet there is virtue, even nobility, in it. The lepers of the past made that sacrifice in the face of inevitable progressive decline and terrible cost. Consider this, though: who is making that sacrifice today? Who has the courage to deny self in the name of helping and healing others?
Look carefully: they are everywhere. The young mother carrying her child into a clinic. An elderly grandfather shoveling the driveway for his neighbor. The firefighter scooping up a pet. The nurse organizing a family visit. The bride and groom standing outside the nursing home window. The parent driving a clunker so a son has college tuition. The cop who spends free time at a youth center and the teacher who visits students at home. Putting others before self happens every day, and it often goes without credit or accolades. That’s where Paul comes in with a reminder about motivation.
Why we do things matters. 1 Corinthians suggests putting aside personal gain. Do it for the glory of God. Go beyond just doing it. Do it without the expectation of reward, payback or even recognition. Do it because it is the right ting to do, the good thing to do. It is not all about opportunity cost or hidden benefits. It is about making a difference with trust and confidence that you are living as part of soething greater than yourself!