“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.” -Diogenes
Speaking of being nice, blogger, meanderedwanderings, hits the nail on the head: “…No, I am not always nice. I do not always get it right. But, being nice to those who are not so nice is important I think. Being nice to those who perhaps annoy you is an honorable thing.
In fact, Jesus taught as much. In his sermon on kingdom ethics, referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, he said this,
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matt. 5:46-48
Jesus puts it in no uncertain terms. He says if you only love, greet, are welcoming, nice, hospitable, gracious, kind… etc. to those with whom you favor or get along, then what good is that? Jesus says it very pointedly, if that’s all you guys are doing, why, you are no better than the thieving tax collectors or the pagan Gentiles!
Hey, wait a minute, I am a Gentile! Thanks for throwing me under the bus!
But, that is the point isn’t it. Those who were listening to him that day, would have been predominantly Jewish. They, in their context, would have considered themselves, almost by default, as better than tax collectors and Gentiles. Why? Well, tax collectors, generally, were fellow Jews who had taken a position with the Roman Empire. Their task was to collect taxes from their fellow Jews and give them to the Roman government. Now, in most people’s eyes, this would have been bad enough. But, the tax collectors often times did not stop there. Not only did they collect what Rome told them to, they collected more still; and with the extra, they lined their own pockets and thus, became wealthy on the backs of their fellow countrymen. You can see why there would have been great animosity toward them.
(If you want a practical application of this, read the account of Jesus calling Levi, or Matthew, who was tax collector, to be a disciple and see how the good, old Pharisees felt about the whole thing! Matt 9:9-13)
… But this is what Jesus wanted the people to see, he wanted to wake them from their spiritual slumber, to see the truth. Even though they felt superior to conniving, unethical tax collectors and unclean, barbaric pagan Gentiles they really weren’t. They were not keeping the spirit of God’s law any better than the others. Sure, they had the Law and prophets and promises of God on their side; and yes, they were strict to observe the letter of the law… but the spirit? the essence?
Jesus is not saying tax collectors are as bad as they think or that Gentiles are the scum of the earth (lucky for me!); no, he is saying we are all in need of the Savior. We all cater to those who we like or who like us; or, who are most like us. Whether we are tax collectors or Gentiles or God-fearing, God-honoring Jews we all have need of the new birth.
Christ proved as much, as he called Matthew, a tax collector himself, to be a disciple. He dined with tax collectors and sinners, as they were typically identified by the Pharisees. He met with Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He met and performed miracles for Gentiles. In fact, he said, in the Great Commission, his gospel was to go into the entire world; Gentiles included.
So, yes, I have done some nice things. But, I cannot take much credit for any of it. All the credit goes to Christ; for he is my righteousness, my grace, my love, my kindness and my life.”