By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
Incentives and rewards drive so much of our culture. They motivate people to do something.
Parents tell children that if they are "nice" boys and girls, they will receive something good in return. And sure enough, after sitting quietly in church or behaving well in the presence of important people, a piece of candy or some delicious treat will be waiting for the child.
When I was a child, the time came when I SOLD my good deeds just so I could reap that reward.
I remember saying to my mother, "How much will you give me for acting good today?"
My approach was responsible for ending the reward system for me. Mother concluded that if I was old enough to SELL my manners, I should be mature enough to mind them.
Admittedly, the reward system continues in adulthood. In workplaces, employees are rewarded with bonuses, plaques, and jewelry. On the shelves in offices and homes, people proudly display trophies and certificates that set them apart and declare they are outstanding individuals.
These motivations can prompt us to do our best and perform in exemplary ways. But one related question haunts me today.
What would happen if we received the rewards BEFORE we did anything to earn them? How would you feel if someone announced you are thought of so highly that you are being honored in a very special way AND that you have done nothing to merit the honor?
The questions may seem far-fetched, but that’s exactly how the reward system works for people who are followers of the risen Lord.
The Apostle Paul points this out in the Book of Romans; he reminds us that, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Before you had a chance to validate your allegiance and love for Jesus, God had already demonstrated God’s love for you through the death of the Son.
The thought of a good man dying for me in my sinful state is baffling! How can that be?
That action goes against every rational, reasonable thought developed in my childhood and as a grown man. But it is precisely that thought which causes me to realize that what God did, through the death and resurrection of Christ, was a reward given out of irrational love and unreasonable grace!
Jesus’ victory over death IS THE INCENTIVE for you and me to be faithful bearers of the cross!
Therefore, let me be very clear about this reward Christians receive -- unearned, unmerited.
First of all, we get the assurance that death does not have the last word. Everything we know about this great act of love indicates God intends to have the last word. God proved it on that first Easter morning.
Secondly, we receive the guarantee that goodness will always triumph over evil. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the crucifixion of Jesus, goodness was personified. When he was betrayed, he continued to love; when he was denied, he continued to be loyal. Even when he was crucified, he continued to be forgiving.
Evil was defeated on the cross and at the tomb, and thus the followers of the risen Lord gain the upper hand, because goodness will always repudiate evil.
Finally, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection proclaims the victory of hope over fear! In our day-to-day lives, we sometimes are tempted to abandon hope for ourselves and our world. But this one thing I know for sure: God who raised Christ from the dead is not baffled or defeated by despair or its cause. God can bring birth again, fill us with a living hope, and lead us into an inheritance that is incorruptible and will never pass away.
Rufus Jones (1863-1948), an American writer, magazine editor, and philosopher, encountered a tremendous tragedy in his early life. His young son died suddenly. But instead of giving himself over to grief, Jones channeled his love for his son into a great motivation. It inspired his living for more than 42 years. Those who knew Jones best said, "It made him try to become the kind of man worthy of that kind of son."
After reflecting upon systems of rewards and incentives, I hope and pray that I will become the kind of Christian worthy of what Christ did for me on Calvary.
Have a blessed Easter!