But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes, and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.
And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
Many of us have had the experience of ordering fast food, and having the food come out as if it was literally thrown into the bag—hamburger disassembled, burger half off the bun, etc. Many of us have the experience of ordering a large sandwich, only to see the person making it put on one tomato slice or only a few pieces of meat. How about the double scoop ice cream cone that cost nearly $5 that looks like half a scoop? On more than one occasion, I’ve wanted to ask the person behind the counter, “Would you eat the sandwich or the hamburger you just made for me?” Or “would you pay $5 for that ice cream cone?” Because if you wouldn’t eat it or buy it, why would you expect me to?
Many times we feel simply underwhelmed by a sense of mediocrity of those around us. There doesn’t seem to be enough drive for excellence anymore. Standards, it seems to me anyway, have been lowered, so that what we are becoming more satisfied with mediocrity and are less focused on getting or giving something with excellence.
Part of the challenge is that so many people in the work force are in it for what they are going to receive, not what they are going to give. Many are working only for the paycheck, they put no joy or pride in their work. That’s why coming in ten minutes late, leaving ten minutes early, checking social media all day in between coming in and leaving has become almost the “norm.” I used to think that if you threw enough money at someone, you could “buy” effort from them. I no longer think that. I’m not sure there is a correlation between money and effort. Those who work hard don’t work for the money (yes, they need money to survive, we all do). They work for the value of being productive. And those who don’t give much effort, I’m convinced, aren’t going to up their game for more money. They may ask for (or even demand) more money, but it’s not going to translate into more effort.
There are two verses that accompany this reflection. The first one is from James 5:12: But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’, that you may not fall under condemnation. Many times in life, we either answer “yes” when in our hearts we know it’s a “no” or we answer “maybe” in order to avoid a commitment. There is no excellence when we answer this way. As an example, imagine if you are planning an event and you invite 20 people to come to the event. Imagine if all 20 tell you that “maybe” they will come. There is no way that this event isn’t mediocre, because as the host of the event, you have no idea how many people to plan for, and you don’t even know that the event will happen, if none of the 20 people come. When we are non-committal, we are endorsing mediocrity. Twenty answers of “no” means no event, and therefore no excellence. But twenty quick answers of “no” give the host time to rethink and perhaps repackage what is being done so there can be excellence after all. The same holds true if someone is running a company with twenty employees. If the employees tell you they can’t come to work, perhaps there is time to replace them with temporary workers, or fire them and get different workers. However, if the employees say they will come and then they don’t, this leads to a mediocre outcome at best.
The second verse is from Luke 6:31, where Jesus gives what is known as “the golden rule,” which says “and as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” When we are the customer or the patient or the client, we want/expect/demand excellence. If we are going to demand excellence, it stands to reason that others will want/expect/demand excellence from us.
A company or a customer that hires us is going to tell us how much we are worth. That’s how our hourly wage, or salary, or cost of product will be determined. God tells each of us that we are of infinite value in His eyes. So, who do we work for? Do we work for our boss? Our customer? God? If we work for God, and God sees infinite value in each of us, this calls us to a sense of excellence and away from a sense of mediocrity. In Philippians 1:9-10, Saint Paul writes “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Imagine if we replaced “excellent” with the word “mediocre” in this verse. So that the verse reads “so that you may approve what is mediocre and be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” It doesn’t seem the “mediocre” is congruent with the idea of being pure and blameless for the day of Christ. And if this is where our destiny lies, that we will meet Christ for a judgment on our lives, then our hope for a favorable judgment lies in excellence more than it lies in mediocrity.
Lord, each day I will be faced with a choice to be excellent or to be mediocre, to give my best effort or to just get by. Give me the wisdom and the mind that desires excellence. Give me the physical and mental stamina to be at my best today with all that I do and with all who I encounter. Amen.
Treat others as you wish to be treated, whether it is making them a sandwich or giving them a compliment. Strive for excellence. Avoid mediocrity.