At the core, a moral is intended to answer the question, “What should I/we do?” More specifically, “What is the right thing to do, say, believe, think or feel, at any given moment?” We become painfully aware of moral failure when we are informed by others that we have failed to support them in a critical moment. We are typically advised of our moral-success in the same way: we’re told by someone that we have successfully loved them with a hug and an exuberant, “Thank you so much! We can uphold our own personal set of morals but without the critique of our friends, family and even strangers we would never know if our choices are in fact, moral.
Moral choices always begin as personal, individual choice. We think about loving others then we act in a way that we believe is loving toward them. Frustratingly, we never actually know if our decisions are moral (right or wrong) until they are experienced by the person receiving the action. Here’s what I mean:
Moral Choice 1: Make my partner breakfast.
Outcome 1: “Thank you so much!”
Most people would agree that making their partner breakfast is a moral, right, good and loving thing to do. In the first example the morality of the choice was verified by the recipient’s response. Assuming they are answering honestly (another choice that would point out morality) the partner making breakfast could feel morally-right.
How about this scenario:
Moral Choice 2: Making my partner breakfast.
Outcome 2: “Gross! Why did you make me eggs?”
Still think the choice to make my partner breakfast is moral? You probably wouldn’t.
These two scenarios points out the connection between morality and love and morality and self-righteousness. It is loving to make my partner breakfast, composed of the ingredients that she likes. It is immoral to make my partner breakfast, composed of ingredients she hates or to which she is indifferent. Since moral choices are loving choices, it is also loving to make my partner breakfast, composed of ingredients she likes. It would be immoral, and unloving to do otherwise.
Making a breakfast composed of hated ingredients highlights that the person trying to be moral is more concerned with appearing to be moral/loving then actually being so. They hold a kind of personal morality that begins and ends with their personal belief in what is right and wrong. Their barometer for what is loving and moral has nothing to do with the recipient of the action; the partner’s like or dislike of eggs. This moral code is more of a “check the box” kind of exercise for the doer. This person needs only the experience of doing things that are generally held to be “moral” regardless of how the action is actually felt by the recipient. Because the “rightness” and “wrongness” begins and ends with that one person this would be called, self-righteousness.
Making a breakfast composed of ingredients that are loved by the partner, highlights the person’s desire to give love, that is understood and acceptable to their partner. This kind of morality/love is a self-less love because the morality of the action depends on the person receiving that action not the doer. This is a morality that requires corporate experience and validation. The rightness and the wrongness of the action is measured by its ability to fill the recipient with feelings of love.
Luke 11 points out that simply giving gifts doesn’t mean that giving gifts is actually moral! If the gift being given is not acceptable to the recipient then it can’t be called moral or loving.
Verse 11 says, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” In the passage both fish, eggs, snakes and scorpions are gifts, given by a father to a son. But it doesn’t take a moral-genius to understand that several of these gifts are completely immoral!
It might seem obvious: don’t give the ones you love snakes and scorpions but we do it every day. We lazily believe that we can treat the people in our lives with indifference and passive-love; counting on those people’s commitment to us as enough to justify our immoral gift-giving. We choose not to think hard about how we treat one another. We cut corners when and try to look like we’re working SOOO hard at our jobs. We write our own moral codes, check the boxes and then defend ourselves when our loved ones tell us how unloved they feel.
Jesus is pointing out that true love, true morality requires acts of service that go beyond our own list of “what is moral.” Love and morality are hard work because they are only loving and moral if the recipients of our actions feel loved. That means love has to be creative (even in the middle of the night), it has to be clear and specific, it has to know the need and meet the need and it has adapt to the diversity of people to whom we are called to love.
We live in a world that wants us to take what we’re given and be grateful for it, sucking up the dehumanizing way that we’re treated and always trying to make us believe that half-acts of service are good enough. Let’s be better! Let’s think hard about what we say and do! Let’s stop telling ourselves how great we we are because we give piles of beautifully wrapped gifts only to find them filled with snakes and scorpions.
May God give us the power to endure and persist as we truly attempt to love one another!