There was a great t-shirt I saw a few years ago that had a silhouette of Jesus on it, and it said “Jesus is coming…look busy!”
There is a phenomenon in psychology whereby test subjects tend to alter their behaviour when they know they are being observed. For example, when given the chance to do something unethical, many test subjects will do just that if they don’t know they are being observed, whereas if they know they are being observed, they will take the ethical alternative.
So what is it about human nature that we feel we can do evil if no one is around to judge us? Certainly, we are (or at least ought to be) our own judges. Certainly many of us are our own worst critics. We know what is right and what is wrong, we have consciences, so why do we choose to ignore them when we are the only ones watching?
Why, in other words, do we not always act with authenticity and integrity?
I wish I had an answer for that, but Jesus didn’t seem to have an answer for it either. His only solution, which he tells in a metaphor in this week's Gospel passage (Luke 12:32-48) which is likely troubling to our modern ears, is to always try our best to act with integrity.
He uses the metaphor of a master who leaves his slaves in charge of his house while he is away at a banquet. This metaphor likely troubles us because in this day and age, slavery is simply not acceptable in any shape or form, but we have to understand that it was quite acceptable in Jesus’ time. He is not endorsing slavery; he is simply speaking of something which was a reality to him and his listeners.
Regardless, the slaves have two choices: either they can be derelict in their duties while their master is away, or they can be diligent. And which will be the more rewarding?
This passage brings up the concept of reward, and this is where the metaphor falls down somewhat, or at the very least leads to some bad theology. The metaphor has the master returning to his diligent slaves and rewarding them with a feast. This leads A: to the notion that we are to be God’s slaves, and B: that God will reward us personally for our diligence.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus is challenging us to authenticity because it is its own reward. We aren’t supposed to do this stuff because it pleases anyone else, but because it pleases us. The fact of the matter is that when you do good, you feel good, and when you do bad, you feel bad.
It is really not that complicated after all.
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