The less fortunate, unlovely, untouchable, and perhaps even unmentionable people in our world are getting what’s coming to them in this life. Therefore we have no obligation, let alone responsibility, to have pity or mercy on them, to “love” them or show kindness to them. However, they do serve a purpose for those of us who are more fortunate. We can, by performing even inconsequential acts of kindness, such as giving money to beggars, or charities, be seen as compassionate to our community, thus improving our personal status. This also improves our karma, guaranteeing a better life next time around.
This is the disingenuous world view propagated, although beneath the surface and not explicitly, by at least two of our world’s major religions, Hinduism and its illegitimate offspring, Buddhism, both of which predate Christianity. These two religions, whose influences had permeated the Near, Middle, and Far East of Jesus’ day, teach that the nature of life in this world is suffering. Human life, therefore, is about the struggle to both escape suffering and achieve personal fulfillment in one’s lifetime. They also share the philosophy of reincarnation—that every sentient being will return in a next life in some form. The status of the return form is dependent on the quality of life achieved in this present life. One’s “karma” is created presently by how one lives, and is received in the next life. You can see where this kind of thinking leads us. The “logical” conclusion would be that if one is seemingly trapped in a less fortunate life situation by birth or misfortune, it must be his or her karma. Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s their own fault. The following “logical” step in our thinking would be—and is—that I therefore, cannot do anything about the karma or misfortune of others, nor do I have any obligation to try. They’re getting what they deserve. An additional and no less insidious understanding of karma, is that I can influence my own by doing good deeds. So, if I behold a beggar, or am presented with an opportunity to help the poor or give to charity, or perhaps help my neighbor in some way, I’m earning karma “brownie points” for myself. This makes the whole purpose of doing good all about personal gain and renders the possibility of unconditional love improbable, at best.
It’s this kind of backdrop for the first century Middle East which makes the teaching of Jesus so unique. No wonder “all men will know you are my disciples if you love each other.” (John 13:35) No one else was living like this or teaching like this. There’s an event recorded by John in chapter 9 of his gospel which shows us that even Jesus’ disciples had been influenced by the thought propagated by Hinduism. One day Jesus and his guys came across a man born blind. They asked him who sinned to cause this man to be born blind, he himself or his parents? Now, if he was born this way, how could he have influenced his own plight? How could his parents have influenced his plight before his was even born? They obviously thought that someone was responsible, either he himself or his parents. The implication: Who was to blame for this? Jesus had a different angle. He undoes the entire idea of reincarnated karma with his singular response. He says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)
This has to be the worldview of all those who claim to follow Jesus. Whatever human misfortune we encounter in our world, God wants to undo. It’s not what he intended for us. Life is not about suffering, it’s about God’s activity through his people to undo the effects of suffering in our world. Notice Jesus didn’t expound upon a theology of suffering—why does it exist? He simply said, “While it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.” He then proceeded to show them what their work that day was—and he healed the blind man.
Jesus also undid the idea of doing good for personal gain. He exposed it for what it is—disingenuous. He minces no words in dealing with the sick hypocrisy of good-deed-doing for show. He clearly tells us that there will be no karma for anyone who does a good deed simply to be noticed. In fact, God, the One who rewards, will turn the other way if we are karma seekers. Check out this part of Jesus’ most famous sermon in Matthew 6:1-4.
When we fallen creatures are redeemed from our wickedness by Jesus, who gave himself for that purpose, he makes us into “…a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14) This makes unconditional love and compassion a real possibility. That’s who we are. That’s why we can make a difference here, now. Let’s do it!