The source of motivation for the servants’ devotion intrigues me. On our best days, perhaps relationships provide the motivation for devoted work. I come from a farm family where hard work was a part of our life together. Like all kids, I did my share of grumbling. But early on I learned that my father did not just send us out to do the tough jobs; he was right there working with us. Often my mother was there along with him. Over time, we also learned that if we did not help, Dad or Mom would be doing the work alone. Relationships provided the impetus for shared enterprise, which was a very healthy thing.
Rewards also provide motivation in our work, and they often eclipse the importance of relationships. We admittedly have many forms of satisfaction from our work, but we must earn a living. The rewards we get from working allow us to meet our needs and to help others, too. And, of course, negative consequences for failure also motivate us. This fits the economy of the world in which we live. Generally our work generates a reward commensurate with our achievement. When we work hard but receive less than we expect, we understand that sometimes life is not fair. But rarely do we get more than we expect or think we deserve.
Like today’s gospel, Paul’s letter to the Romans also explains a different economy for the Kingdom of Heaven. The reward due for sin is death. But Saint Paul is explaining a marvelous generosity, which disrupts this dreaded expectancy. Eternal life, not death, is our undeserved reward. Thanks to the “gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ” we can become “those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification [who] come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.”
Although we live and work in the economy of this world where the correlation between work and rewards is strong, we must carefully consider how this system affects our perceptions about relationships within the Kingdom of Heaven. When the Psalmist says, “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will”, are we coming out of obligation? Are we viewing God as a master we must serve, or face the penalty? How can we open ourselves to God more generously and wholeheartedly, where “To do your will … is my delight.” Love and generosity generally begets more of the same. God is working with us and through us, and all around us, in helping us to grow into maturity in our relationship with Him. Without devotion that is constantly nurtured and kindled by the Spirit, we might otherwise be limited by our own framework of expectations and rewards, instead of enjoying the blessedness of a relationship beyond our imagination.
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