Isaiah and Jesus are both telling us in our readings this morning to do good things. We would expect that. Isaiah says that if we are good to people and keep religious laws, then good things will happen to us. Jesus says that we should be good to people even if it breaks religious laws – and he says nothing about anything good coming to us as a consequence of our good actions.
They are both right.
In regards to doing good things, we should do good things not merely in order to have good things come our way, but quite often, living a lifetime of kindness does make life easier for everyone around us, including ourselves. That is not always the case, or maybe more accurately we should say that it does not always seem to be the case as far as we can tell. Sometimes good people have horrible things happen to them – but even then, people who are used to doing good seem to take all the horribleness with a much sweeter attitude than those who have been mean to people all their lives. Maybe Aristotle is right: to become a good person, one needs to do many good things. But even so, there are those cases where truly good people have truly bad things happen to them and they are crushed by the circumstances and lose their faith. So Isaiah is mostly right about the consequences of good behavior, and Jesus just leaves the subject alone, but no matter the consequences, we ought to do good things – at least for the others around us if not for ourselves.
In regards to religious laws, Isaiah and Jesus are also both right. Religious laws and other rules and laws are in place in order to help us and everyone around us have good lives as individuals and as groups. So when we obey rules, good things are more likely to happen to us and to those around us. However, people are always more important than the rules. If a rule hurts instead of helps, then the rule needs to be disregarded (if it is an isolated incident) or changed (if it is an altogether harmful rule). Knowing when to follow rules and when to break them takes a lot of maturity and prayer. Knowing when to change rules or keep them takes even more maturity and prayer.
Maybe our guidelines in the area of breaking or keeping rules in order to do good should be based on both Jesus and Isaiah (with Jesus trumping Isaiah when necessary): do good always, follow rules usually, and don’t do it solely in order to get something good in return. Our actions do have consequences – for ourselves and for others. Let’s do good so that good consequences result. But when we do slip up and do bad things, always remember that grace overrides karma – God does eventually clear up all messes, but it is so much easier to not make the mess in the first place. And of course, we don’t do good things so that we will be saved; we do good things because we are saved.
Isaiah, Aristotle, Jesus – do good, do lots of good, let the rules help you rather than keep you from doing good. And when confused about what to do, pray and do the best you can. AMEN