No Good Deed – Homily for the 6th Sunday in Easter
There’s a long but important sentence
in the First Letter of Peter that we heard earlier:
“Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Of all the words in that long sentence, it’s the last one, hope,
that’s the most important.
Hope is something the world could surely use more of.
But before the First Letter of Peter gets to that long sentence,
there’s a lot that comes before to help us understand what it means.
First of all, it’s is addressed to Christians
who are scattered far beyond Jerusalem.
They’re in Asia Minor, they’re in Galatia, they’re in Bithynia,
they’re all over.
And so they’re living in cultures that don’t understand their beliefs,
that don’t know their moral code.
They’re sojourners, is actually how the letter addresses them.
They are wanderers in foreign lands.
And so this letter to these sojourners
is mean to give them encouragement
to stay true to the faith
even though they are so far from the community in Jerusalem.
It challenges them to continue living morally upright lives.
It tells them to be sympathetic, compassionate,
to have humility, to not return evil for evil or insult for insult.
And after several sections of telling slaves, husbands, and wives
how to do good and how to be good,
just before the passage we read today,
the letter says,
“Now who is going to harm you
if you are enthusiastic for what is good?”
It’s trying to be encouraging, right?
Who would harm you for trying to do good?
Wouldn’t that be nice if that’s the way the world worked?
But we know that life isn’t always like that.
We know there are times that we have tried to do good
and it’s backfired on us,
when we were just trying to do the right thing,
and it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would.
There were times when we told the truth,
and it was used against us,
or when we showed compassion or generosity
and got taken advantage of.
There are many times when doing the right thing has left us alone and hurt.
There’s a phrase for that,
a phrase attributed
to a woman named Clare Boothe Luce.
Clare was a prominent author, politician, and ambassador
in the mid twentieth century and she had quite the wit.
She was married to Henry Luce
the founder of the magazines Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.
Clare converted to Catholicism
after getting grief counseling from Bishop Fulton Sheen
when he was still a priest.
Clare was a prominent, influential woman,
and people often wanted her help.
Her secretary recorded in her memoirs
that when she would try to get Clare engaged in helping people,
in doing good,
Clare would say,
no good deed goes unpunished.”
Sometimes that’s what it feels like
when we’ve tried to do something good
and it has come back to bite us.
It feels like we are being punished for trying to do the right thing.
So when this First Letter of Peter asks
“Who’s going to harm you if you’re enthusiastic for what is good?”
we might think it a little naive.
But the letter goes on to say,
“Even if you should suffer because of righteousness,
blessed are you.”
Blessed are you,
because what happens when we suffer for righteousness,
when we suffer for the sake of doing good,
is that we trust in the savior who did the ultimate good,
and yet who suffered for it.
who gave sight to blind Bartimaeus,
who forgave the woman caught in adultery,
who healed on the Sabbath,
no good deed of his went unpunished.
He was crucified for his good deeds.
All of his forgiveness, his compassion,
his tolerance, his love,
all of his good deeds
were nailed to a cross.
But these fifty days of Easter
are all about looking beyond the cross
to the Resurrection.
These fifty days are all about hope.
When we try to be compassionate,
when we try to forgive,
when we don’t return insult for insult,
and yet we end up in pain, in suffering,
we end up ridiculed, taken advantage of,
it is during those difficult times
that our trust in the Resurrection
gives us hope.
And people notice that.
When the early Christians were persecuted
and yet stayed faithful,
they gave a powerful witness to those who had never heard of Christ.
Because everyone suffers.
Everyone faces disappointment, loss, injustice.
But those who suffer in hope stand out.
There is a peace about them, an inner calm,
that makes others curious.
This is what the First Letter of Peter means by telling us
to “Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
It means be ready
when people ask us questions like,
“How can you stay so hopeful after being treated so unfairly?”
“How can you be so positive when you are so sick?”
When people ask us questions like that,
Scripture tells us today,
be ready to give them an explanation.
Be ready to tell them,
“I’m hopeful because of the cross.
I’m hopeful because Jesus Christ walked this earth,
did good, suffered because he did good,
and rose from the dead;
and since I am baptized into Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection
I know the same thing will happen to me.
I will rise,
and this suffering will be no more.”
The hope of those who suffer is a powerful witness.
We see this in people we know,
and they give us hope.
Some of you here may remember Jill Gotzian,
a fifth grade teacher at All Saints
who battled Muscular Dystrophy for years before passing away.
When I first started working at All Saints she walked with a cane,
but as her disease progressed she had to give up walking
until eventually she had to use a motorized scooter to get around.
Her life was a daily exercise in suffering.
And yet Jill was always full of hope,
always smiling, always laughing.
When alumni would come and visit they always went to see Jill.
She was a deeply spiritual woman,
and when she taught her students about faith and hope,
they had to take her seriously,
because if she could have faith and hope in spite of her disease,
then there must be something to it.
I think of another teacher from All Saints, Mary Feezell,
a first grade teacher who battled cancer for years.
Into remission, out of remission,
and she stayed hopeful through it all, a kid at heart,
who loved going to Disneyland.
Even close to death she was still talking about God’s love,
she was still full of hope.
We all know people in our lives who suffer,
who struggle with pain,
and yet are still are hopeful.
And each of us undergoes suffering
at various times in our lives.
Sometimes our suffering is the result of things beyond our control;
sometimes we suffer for trying to do the right thing.
Like Jill and Mary,
we have the ability to be witnesses to hope when we suffer.
Like the early Christians in Asia Minor, or Galatia, or Bithynia,
we are sojourners in a culture that often does not understand us.
If it is true that no good deed goes unpunished,
it is also true that no good deed goes unnoticed by God.
And it is God, and the Son of God that is the source of our hope.
If we are always ready to offer an explanation of hope to those who ask
then we can bring the hope of resurrection in Christ to all the world.