In 1973, my wife and I decided to buy an upright freezer. We chose the one we could afford and made the deal.
The young cashier asked if we would like to put the purchase on credit. “No,” we replied, “we’ll pay cash.”
Even then, our desire to pay cash seemed to flummox the cashier.
“But if you pay cash, you won’t get credit,” she said.
“Credit with whom?” I asked skeptically.
“Well, well, with the computer,” she finally stammered.
That seems to be even truer today. Our credit ratings are thoroughly maintained by computers and can be messed up by “GIGO” (garbage in, garbage out).
For good and for bad, the concept of “credit” is overwhelmingly around us.
So let’s peel back the multiple layers of meaning our consumption culture has piled onto the concept of credit. Let’s hope the word still has some credibility in our culture and in our faith-life.
“Credit” comes from a Latin word that means “to entrust, to honor.” To give credit to someone means you have trust in that person’s promise to do what he says he will do. Or credit is given someone because of something the person did worthy of praise, respect, etc.
It’s easy to “give credit where credit is due.” Then why does Jesus mess around with that cliché?
In Luke 6:32-36, he challenges his followers: What credit is it to you that you love those who love you, do good to those who do good to you, lend to those from whom you hope to receive?
Even sinners do those things. Instead, he said, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.
But we do expect something in return. (There’s always a quid pro quo with us, isn’t there?) We get to be Children of God, for “he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
After many years in various leadership positions, I’m still learning a lesson that is connected with these sentiments of Jesus. The lesson: You get more things accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.
Whatever the project, it is more successful if the people involved are focused on results, not on elbowing to the front of the praise line. Many volunteer efforts and business ventures have tanked because people were too greedy about credit due them than they were about doing the best they could.
In Matthew 5:43-48, we see Jesus saying similar things as reported in Luke. But the children of God are challenged to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”
Perfect? Who could achieve perfection? Not even perfectionists can do that!
But “perfect” in the gospels comes from a Greek word “teleios,” which means to “realize the purpose for which it was intended.” A screw is teleios when it connects two items together. A hammer is teleios when it pounds a nail into wood.
But when are humans teleios, perfect? Ah, a more difficult answer, isn’t it.
If we are to be like God, what are the primary characteristics of God we are called to be like? Universal benevolence, radical hospitality, seeking the best for another person. Add to the list as you like.
Put simply, the person who unconditionally cares for another person – without seeking credit for doing what comes naturally – is being perfect, teleios.
When we practice what we preach, we don’t need the credit.
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