A very popular series of books over the last two decades are those in the series called Chicken Soup for the Soul; these contain inspirational stories and reflections on a variety of subjects. One of my favorite stories from these books is called “The Circus.” Back in the early 1960s, a teenage boy named Dan and his father were standing in line to buy tickets for the circus; money was tight and it had taken them a long time to save up for the event, and they were really looking forward to it. Just ahead of them in line was a large family with eight very excited but well-behaved children, all under age twelve; though the family was poor, the parents were obviously deeply in love with each other, and very proud of their children. When the husband asked the ticket seller how much ten tickets would cost, he was shocked at the price; he and his wife exchanged a worried glance, because they didn’t have that much money. How could the man possibly tell his eager children that they wouldn’t be going into the circus after all–because he couldn’t afford it?
Dan and his dad saw all this. Dan felt sorry for them, but didn’t know what to do; then he saw his father take out a $20 bill from his pocket and deliberately drop it on the ground. He then picked it up, tapped the man with the large family on the shoulder, and said, “Excuse me, sir; this fell out of your pocket.” The man, knowing full well what was going on, deeply appreciated this help from a stranger in his desperate, embarrassing situation; he took the hand of Dan’s father with both his own hands and, with a quivering voice and a tear streaming from his eye, said, “Thank you, thank you, sir; this really means a lot to me and my family.” He and his wife and eight children were able to go to the circus after all. As it happened, Dan and his dad weren’t able to attend–because that $20 was all the money they had. Writing about it years later, Dan said, “My father and I went back to our car and drove home. We didn’t go to the circus that night, but we didn’t go without” (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Second Helping, p. 3). It is true that Dan and his dad, even though they missed out on the circus, didn’t go without–for their good deed not only brought immense joy to a needy family, but also gave them the satisfaction of performing a wonderful act of kindness and of experiencing God’s grace in a powerful way. Moreover, witnessing his dad’s act of compassion gave Dan an even deeper respect for him, and the lesson of generosity and joy he learned that day stayed with him the rest of his life. Acts of love can take on a life of their own and become a source of lasting blessing for those who perform them; because love multiplies itself, our generosity allows great things to happen.
One of Our Lord’s most famous miracles was the multiplication of the loaves and fish–and the story in John’s Gospel (6:1-15) will serve as the starting point for Jesus’ description of Himself as the Bread of Life, the subject of the Gospel over the next four Sundays. There, we see that Jesus miraculously turned five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed several thousand people; this was an ever greater miracle than that described in 2nd Kings (4:42-44), when Elisha fed one hundred men with twenty loaves. The bread and fish which Jesus blessed, broke, and distributed did not belong to Him or the apostles; it was donated by a boy in the crowd. What if the boy had said “No,” or kept his food hidden in his cloak? If he had refused to share, the miracle would not have happened. This young man with limited resources played an essential role in Our Lord’s plan; his simple generosity made it possible for something amazing to occur. That’s how God works in our lives; He comes to us with power and blessing and aid–but first He asks us to place our trust in Him by giving Him the little bit we are and have, thereby showing our unity with Him and the people around us. In the Letter to the Ephesians (4:1-6), we are told that we must preserve this unity, which is rooted in the Holy Spirit; we must live a life worthy of the calling we have received, for by placing our wills and our lives in God’s hands, we unlock for ourselves the amazing treasures of His fatherly love.
I suspect that if any of us had been in the place of Dan and his father, standing in line for tickets to the circus, and then knowing what was going on and seeing the terrible dilemma of a husband and father of eight children, we would probably have done the same thing; we too would likely have responded in generosity, thereby allowing a simple but important miracle of grace to occur. That story is over and done with–but similar opportunities for Christian charity and concern are all around us, every day. Something as simple as a phone call to a lonely relative or neighbor might serve as a life-giving channel of divine grace; the ten minutes we spend on this routine but caring act might brighten the person’s entire day and serve as an important reminder of God’s loving presence. Our willingness to help a troubled teenager by really listening, without dismissing his or her concerns or responding with trite sayings, might be enough to convince this young person that if we can take him or her seriously, so can God–and this might just change the course of his or her life. Our low-key, behind-the-scenes example of Christian charity might demonstrate the truth and reality of faith, as happened when Dan witnessed his father’s good deed, and thereby provide a profound and lasting memory to someone important in our life. We can never guess what sorts of fruit our acts of love will bear, or how rich a harvest our acts of faith might yield; the one thing we can be sure of, however, is that our generous response to God’s love will bring about something wonderful and amazing, and will write another chapter in that glorious story whose final ending will only be revealed in heaven.
Earthly rewards mean nothing–after all, Jesus fled when the people wanted to make Him a king; the true reward for our love of God and neighbor awaits us in the life to come. Our humble, simple, but sincere acts of generous love will there be repaid immeasurably. This is Our Lord’s promise. Blest are we who trust in His word.