There once was a priest, a lover of Jesus who served the people of his town well. Every time the town faced difficulties they would approach the priest and ask that he pray for them. The priest loved the people and was happy to pray for the community, and he would withdraw to a special place where he liked to pray, and he would lift the concerns of the town to God with a special prayer. God would always hear his prayer and God always helped the community.
The priest served the community for many years until one day he died at a ripe, old age. It came to be that once again there were some grave challenges in the town and they turned to the priests successor. The successor was a good man but not like his mentor. Some said he was not near as holy as his predecessor. But he did know the special place and the special prayer, so he went off to pray. He said "Lord, I am not a holy man like your humble servant before me. Please don't hold this against the people of the town. Please hear my prayer and help my community." And God heard his prayer and helped the community.
When he died, the Town approached his successor and asked him to pray for the community in a crisis. This priest did not know the special place or the special prayer, nor was he all that holy. None the less, he agreed to intercede on behalf of the town. He said to the Lord "It is not a formula or a magical incantation that you value nor do they motivate you to help. Lord, hear the cries of desperation of the people in the community, and please come to their assistance." And God heard his prayer and helped the community.
This priest died in time and his successor was a notorious type. A lover of fame, prestige and the finery that comes with it. The people of the community asked him in a season of great trial to intercede on their behalf and ask God for help. Begrudgingly he left his own pursuits and grumbled off to prayer. Annoyed at the inconvenience of it all he said to God "Some God you are! You are perfectly capable of solving the problems of the people of the town, that you have caused I might add, and yet you refuse to lift a finger to help these people unless we all beg and plead? Whatever God! Do whatever you want with these people, I don't care." With that the priest went back to negotiating his next deal.
And once again, God heard his prayer and helped the community.
- A re-imagining of a story by Anthony DeMello, SJ, from Taking Flight
Quid pro quo is a Latin saying that means something for something. There is an idea that nothing is free, and this cultural belief manifests itself in our Christian faith in a variety ways. One example is the idea that we have to be good enough, perform the right ritual, say the correct prayer in the correct place by the right person for God to hear our prayers and respond. As such, an entire ministry industry has been built around how to get God to do what we want Him to do. In our desperation, like begging waifs, we look for the keys necessary to provoke / entice God to respond, often using scripture as a book of spells and incantations. As another example, we often look for a scapegoat to blame for our discontentment; the worship leader isn't anointed enough, the pastor isn't preaching the right stuff or the youth pastor is too worldly.
If truth be told as demonstrated in Christ, God doesn't wait to respond to our good performance, the special prayer, in the special place by the special person. God initiates. While we were still sinners God sent Jesus (Romans 5:8). God doesn't help us because we are good. God helps because He is good. God doesn't love in response to our love but because He is love (1John 4:8), and to not love would be asking God not to be God. We can love because God first loved us (1John 4:19).
And yet, we are still invited into relationship. We are invited to pray and to worship, to co-labor with God, and while the quality of our hearts are important, they are only the fruit of experiencing the love of God. God responds because He is good not because we are. When we succumb to quid pro quo, a very real fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it drives us to perform for something we already have in Jesus. This produces toil in our lives not rest. In fact, while we are out trying to fashion our own covering, our own righteousness to be acceptable to God, we are actually running in the opposite direction of the blessing that is to overcome us - the wonder of love in and through Jesus. It is in this rest that we simply approach God, with empty hands - no spiritual resume' - and simply receive.
We are all in a process of becoming. We have our good days, and our not so good days. Sometimes we say and do things that aren't at all what we think they should be, and yet, many of us can attest that often God can take even our worst, faithless prayer and even our begrudging actions and leverage them to move mountains! Faith and good behaviour are not a kind of currency that we exchange with God for His goodies. God is not a genie in a lamp or a spiritual vending machine. Faith is a relationship, and our relationship with perfect love is more than enough to cover our failings and bad attitudes.
Let's give ourselves a free gift. Let's step off the treadmill of religious obligation, performance and all the tyranny that it produces, and simply receive the love of God; its rest, peace and blessing in the context of relationship with the Father. I would also encourage us to consider allowing our leaders, mentors. teachers, bosses and family members off this treadmill as well. Relieve them of any unhealthy expectations you have of them - spoken or unspoken.
God is good, even when we're not.