One evening a man finished a hard day's construction work and was driving his rusty pick-up truck home in a cold, misty rain when he noticed an elderly woman standing alongside her car on the shoulder of the road. He quickly realized she needed help and pulled over. Getting out of his car, he saw the anxious look on the woman's face. Sensing her fear, he said: "I'm here to help you, ma'am. Why don't you wait in your car where it's warm and dry? By the way, my name is Brian Anderson."
Fortunately , the car had only a flat tire. Brian went to work changing the tire, though he got plenty muddy in the process. As he was finishing, the lady rolled down her window and started talking to him, telling him she was just passing through on her way home to St. Louis. She thanked him for his kindness and asked how much she owed him for the repair. Brian, though, never thought about getting paid. This was not a job. He was helping someone in need, and God knows there were plenty who had given him a helping hand in the past. So he told her that if she really wanted to pay him back, then the next time she saw someone in need, she should think of him and help that person. He waited till she drove off and then got into his pick-up. It had been a cold and exhausting day, but Brian felt good when he finally got home.
Meanwhile, miles down the same road, the elderly woman spotted a cafe and went in to grab a bite to eat and take the chill off before continuing her journey. The cafe was dingy : not what she was used too : but she entered and sat at a booth. She was surprised when a smiling waitress came over and gave her a towel to dry her damp hair. She noticed the waitress was pregnant and smiled at all her customers, not allowing her condition to affect her service. The elderly woman wondered how someone with so little in life could give so much. Then she remembered Bryan's words!
She finished her meal and paid her check with a new one hundred dollar bill. While the waitress went to get her change, the woman quietly left the cafe. The waitress returned to the booth, surprised that the woman had left without her change. Then the waitress noticed a message written on the table napkin: It read: "You owe me nothing. Someone just helped me the way I'm helping you. But if you really want to pay me back, here is what you do: Don't break the cycle. Help someone else as I helped you." Under the napkin, the waitress found four more new $100 bills!
Overwhelmed, she began to cry, but there still were people to serve, tables to clear, sugar bowls to fill. Somehow, she made it through her shift. That night when she got home and went to bed, she thought about the $100 bills and remembered what the lady had written on the napkin. She wondered how that lady could have known how badly she and her husband needed that money, especially with the baby on the way. She knew how worried her husband was. As she lay next to her sleeping husband, she turned and pressed a soft kiss to his cheek and whispered, "Everything's going to be all right. I love you, Brian Anderson."
Why tell this story today? What connection does it have to the Gospel narrative of Jesus' passion, death and burial? I think you already know. But here are some clues.
Clue #1: Jesus didn't suffer and die on the cross just so you and I can have a personal Savior. Nor did Jesus suffer and die just so you and I can go to heaven. No! Jesus suffered and died so that you and I might have a more abundant life right here, right now, on this 3rd rock from the sun, this marvelous planet Abba God creates for us.
Clue #2: Jesus never once invited us to worship him, but he always invited us to live as he lived, to walk his walk. This is his "more abundant life" and it involves a particular principle: "What goes around, comes around." Yes, there is a cycle of related events that we need to recognize and honor. The three people in this story : the construction worker, the elderly woman, and the restaurant waitress : all recognized and honored that principle. By helping others in need, they and we help bring the kingdom of heaven to this earth! We are links in the same chain! By honoring that principle, we enrich not just our own lives but the lives of other people : sometimes even total strangers!
Clue #3: By his life, passion and death, Jesus energizes this cycle Jesus teaches us to live as he lived, compassionately, forgivingly, peacefully, thankfully, generously, prayerfully : for all relationships are sacred! It's up to each of us to keep the cycle alive! We are to be the graces in each other's lives. By following Jesus' example, by bringing compassion, forgiveness, peace, thankfulness, generosity and prayer to each other, we actually make the kingdom happen! You and I are necessary links in this chain! Without our involvement, it doesn't happen. If the construction worker hadn't stopped his truck, if the elderly woman in the cafe hadn't noticed, if the waitress had been self-absorbed, the links would be broken, the hopes would be dashed, the kingdom's presence would be lessened! The hope of today's Gospel is that we keep the links intact, the chain of events strong! "What goes around, comes around!"