Pay it forward ...
Posted: Thu, 10 Dec 2020 08:32
Last week, I got a lovely email from a former parishioner who told me about his experience at his local 'Costa Coffee' drive-through. When he pulled up to pay for his cup of 'morning Joe' he was amazed to be told that the car in front had already paid for it. He caught a glimpse of a red Suzuki pulling out and realised that he did not recognise either the car or its driver who simply gave a friendly wave, as he joined the flow of traffic. What an amazing gesture and it prompted my friend to pay for the coffee of the driver behind him. It would be lovely to think that every driver did the same for the rest of the morning and 'paid it forward'. I cannot say that it did happen, all I know is my friend was so moved by a simple act of kindness from a stranger, that he shared it with another stranger.
Jesus challenges us, through word and deed, to take 'love' seriously. It is not a real challenge to love those we like and get on with—they are part of our lives. Love becomes more challenging when it is the stranger or even the enemy:
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6: 32-36
In these Christmas times, we are invited to share the gift of love in a way that has to challenge us. Luke's Samaritan did not stop to find out who the man attacked by the robbers was. He did not need to know his credit rating or where he came from; it was enough that the man was in need for the Good Samaritan to react with kindness. My friend received unconditional kindness from 'red Suzuki' man and that prompted him to share too.
This is a very simple, but doable, response to the call of Jesus. With the example of our great heroes, our saints, we sometimes think that we have to do the extraordinary to achieve and share the gospel. To share love we might not be able to go and work in the slums of Monrovia, but we can easily pay for a cup of tea for the car behind you in the McDonald's drive-through. Perhaps you could get a drink and sandwich for the 'Big Issue' seller outside Tesco. I was heartened by the number of parishioners who gave up a Saturday evening once a month to provide food and shelter for our homeless population. They discovered that those we so often ignore on our busy city streets have a back story and have a right to respect, care and appreciation.
Lily Hardy Hammond originally coined the phrase when she wrote in her 1916 book, 'In the Garden of Delight,
You don't pay love back; you pay it forward.
As we can see, the expression has been around for a while, but it was made popular in the film, based on Catherine Ryan Hyde's book, 'Pay it Forward', starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. The movie shows Osment, as a 12-year-old boy, Trevor, who develops the idea of paying a favour from someone forward, as part of a social studies assignment to find a way to change the world. As it catches on, we see people engaging in acts of kindness to others only to say, "Don't pay me back – I'm looking for nothing in return – pay it forward."
In this very simple movie, we see a child trying to make a difference in the lives of his mother, friends and teacher. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution in the lives of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him. In these difficult days, more than ever, we need simple kindness that actually costs nothing except our time. The Thursday 'Clap for the NHS' was a simple act that not only showed our appreciation for frontline workers, but actually UNITED the country during a difficult time. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1841 essay 'Compensation', actually wrote about this concept:
In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.
Acts of random kindness can make such a difference as we prepare for Christmas 2020. You have the chance to change the world for one person today—if everyone was to do the same, then just think how better our world could be. The heart of "pay it forward" is based on Jesus' statement in Matthew:
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matt 7: 12
It calls on us to treat other people the way we want to be treated. It releases the love of God in our lives. And enables us to make a difference. People's feelings must never be tossed aside: if you choose not to help another, then never treat them with contempt or callously. My nana used to say, "if you can't say anything good, then keep your mouth shut!"; wise advice from a very wise women. So today, be on the lookout for people who you can do a good deed for. You will be surprised at how big a small gesture can be to some people—like 'red Suzuki' man. You will feel good in the process and who knows, it may even open up a door to share your faith or to pray for someone. Start today and begin making an effort to look up from your life, and you will find that opportunities abound for you to do good deeds for others. It is an easy and effective way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that desperately needs His loving presence in the midst of a pandemic that nobody prepared us for:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
St Teresa of Avila
The wisdom of a child—watch, learn and reflect: