Picture the scene. You’re in a fast food restaurant (choose your favourite) and a person who you suspect is homeless, walks in and then starts to pick up and eat food which has been left behind on trays.
What do you do?
You might ignore the unfolding situation. You might walk out in disgust. You might buy a real meal for the person and bring an end to the indignity.
Others might buy a real meal for the person and bring an end to the indignity….then tell everyone what they did on Facebook.
Yep, that’s a real thing. Doing good stuff and telling everyone on Social Media.
I’ve seen it lots of times in the past few months. Viral tales of people who’ve encountered a person in distress, helped them (which is lovely) but before leaving, snapped a shareable selfie. Some try to disguise it, by telling a long story of how much the homeless/vulnerable person taught them;
Here’s a picture of me giving my shoes to a homeless person…he’s shown me what life is really about.
Here’s a photo of us at a soup kitchen..we’ve learned so much from the wisdom of the people we’re serving.
Cynical? Me? Ok…maybe just a little. Sorry.
To be fair, I’m guessing the generous acts were well-intended, but why the need to talk about it? Sharing it on Facebook makes the giver a good person…a temporary hero others can look up to. And if it goes viral, all the better – who wouldn’t want thousands of people telling you that you’re kind and heroic? Let’s be honest…we’d all love it (just a little).
Our culture has a funny way of deciding who is good. People who do huge amounts for charity, are knights in shining armour, almost untouchable. Celebrities who visit sick children are ‘good’, people who buy £3.99 Super Big Mac Value Meals (or whatever they’re called) and give them to homeless people are ‘heroes’. And while those people might be genuinely lovely, some of the awful sex abuse cases which have surfaced recently demonstrate that ‘good’ people (who were heroes because of their charity work) were actually not so good after all.
Good deeds don’t necesarily make a person good; not the charitable things, not the caring duties, not even giving your shoes to a vulnerable person. That’s just stuff – stuff the world honours, but which tells us very little about the state of hearts.
The prophet Isaiah once condemned the wayward Israelites who were looking to earn Godly brownie points through sacrifice and worshipping idols; ‘All your righteousness is like filthy rags’, he said to them.
He was saying that they couldn’t earn their way into the Kingdom of Heaven. If their hearts weren’t right, then all their outwardly acts of worship/goodness were completely pointless.
In other words, acts of righteousness which are motivated by greed or, in our culture’s case, the need to shout about it on Facebook, are not acts of righteousness at all. They’re acts of self-righteousness. Big, very different thing. (Google the difference…it’s scary).
That’s probably why Jesus warned us about celebrating our own good deeds;
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theatre, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘play actors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6, MSG)
They’re strong (scary) words, which make me examine/think about all the rubbish I post on Social Media. Is it to make me look better…or make Jesus look better?