As someone who responds to emergencies, when a call comes in, you respond. Simple as that. So when the call comes in on that beautiful September day, you get in the vehicle and head into what could certainly be trouble. But that isn't the point. No matter what awaits, you have a job to do; a duty to perform.
That was the situation which many firefighters and police officers found themselves in back on a sunny Tuesday morning in September of 2001. People were in trouble and it was the job of the emergency personnel to help them out. In return for "just doing their duty" many lost their lives, more still live with the nightmarish memory of what happened on September 11th in New York City. We've called these people heroes because they gave of themselves. And while I'll agree that people who work as firefighters and police officers and ambulance drivers and emergency medical personnel are doing the work of heroes, to those in those positions they are simply doing their job. I doubt that any of the men and women who rushed up the stairs of the World Trade Center buildings that morning was thinking about being called a hero. They were just doing their duty.
Jesus posed an interesting question concerning the way someone is treated who is just doing their duty. He couched it in terms which were easily understood in His day, but hard to grasp in ours. Jesus said:
Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, "Come along now and sit down to eat"? Would he not rather say, "Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink"? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?The Master is pointing out something very basic, but often overlooked. A person doesn't deserve a reward for doing what he is supposed to be doing all along. If he gets one, fine, but he shouldn't expect a bonus for fulfilling his obligation. That's what duty is, after all. An obligation. If I am being paid to plow a field, then why would I expect to finish and have my employer rush out to me, thank me profusely and then offer to take me out for a steak dinner? I just did what I was supposed to do... what I was paid to do... what I agreed to do when I took the job.
I remember when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. broke the record for consecutive games played, formerly held by Yankee great, Lou Gerhig. A lot of pomp and circumstance surrounded Ripken's every game, waiting until the streak hit 2131 games. When it did, the stadium exploded in an ovation which lasted for 22 minutes. Ripken himself though, always felt funny about being hailed in such a way. After all, he was just showing up for work every day.
At my kids' school, there is an incentive program to promote good behavior in school. If a kid can manage not to get into trouble more than three times in nine weeks, they are given a reward -- usually a field trip or a pizza party or the like. Let me rephrase this: if they do what they are supposed to do -- behave while in school -- they get rewarded! This is not for going beyond the call. This is for doing what they are supposed to be doing in the first place! They have it backwards. The reward for being good is not getting into trouble, just like the reward for doing your job is not getting fired. But today we seem to feel that we should be recognized for doing our duty. We love those rewards. They owe us! I know my kids' school is tame as far as the whole reward good behavior movement is concerned. I heard someone on the radio this week talking about a school in California where all the kids with perfect attendance for the year were given the chance to win a new Mustang convertable! How could anyone ever expect to deserve that kind of prize just for showing up in class every day?
We can complain about all we want but if we are honest, we know from experience that even a fine upstanding Christian person usually looks for a reward for doing our Christian duty. C'mon. You know. That feeling of expectation deep inside wondering why no one has publically thanked you for teaching the Junior High Sunday School class for the past three years. That disappointment you feel when nobody mentions it when you go out of your way to distribute church bulletins to everyone, but the one person you miss complains long and loud to everyone. We love our acclaim, our public thanks, the compliments on a job well done just as much as the Pharisees loved to get the good seats and receive the respect of the people. And we remember what Jesus had to say about them.
Church fund raising experts say that if a church wants to increase giving from the congregation, it needs to effusively thank each giver and personally recognize them for every last gift he or she has given to the church. It may be effective, but it's nonsense. As a Christian it's my duty to support God's work through the local church, and I'm to do that without looking for a thank you card, a public show of appreciation or a tax deduction. You see, I owe God much more than what I can give. I shouldn't be giving or serving just so I can feel appreciated.
I've taken far too long to explain what took Jesus only four verses to say. Namely that we are called to obedience as Christians. We are to serve Christ -- not for the acclaim or the reputation or the restaurant gift certificate given as a thank you -- we serve because that is our duty. If we feel sleighted because we are never rewarded, get over yourself. You don't deserve a reward. You're not special. You're just doing your duty.
As Christians, we were bought at a price. That price was the blood of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian means we are not owed, we are owned. Our service is simply our duty to our Master. Our duty is obedience to Him who owns us.