Once there was a little orphaned boy who lived with his grandmother; everyone in town knew and loved him. One night tragedy struck: the house caught on fire, and the grandmother was overcome by smoke. A crowd gathered outside, and they could hear the boy screaming for help from upstairs. No one knew what to do, however, for the flames were so fierce that no one could enter, and the fire department hadn’t yet arrived. Then a stranger rushed past the crowd, went to the back of the house, and found an iron pipe attached to the wall; even though the pipe was becoming very hot because of the fire, the man climbed up, hand over hand, reached a second floor window, and went inside. A moment later he returned to the window with the boy; as the crowd cheered, he climbed back down the pipe with the child clinging to his neck.
A few days later, after the grandmother’s funeral, a town meeting was held to determine who would raise the boy. A farmer said, “I have a large farm; it will do the child good to grow up in that setting.” A teacher said, “I have my own home library, and I’d make sure the boy has a good education.” Other townspeople stepped forward and voiced their willingness to care for the orphan, explaining what they had to offer him. The richest man in town finally said, “As you know, I’m wealthy; I can offer the boy everything that’s been mentioned so far, and more besides. My wife and I would like him to live with us.” The mayor asked, “Is there anyone else who’d like to say something?” From the back of the room a stranger walked forward with his hands in his pockets; he stopped in front of the boy, and slowly removed his hands. Everyone gasped because of the terrible scars they bore. The boy, who had been staring at the floor the whole time because everyone was talking about him as if he weren’t even there, finally looked up–and he cried out in joyful recognition. This was the man who had saved him; his hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. The boy lept up and threw himself around the stranger’s neck. Seeing this, the farmer and the teacher and the rich man and everyone else left, one by one, leaving the boy alone with his rescuer. The decision over who would have custody of the boy was made by those scarred hands, which filled the silence with an eloquent testimony of love (Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations, p. 41). In the same way, the scars Jesus bears on His hands and feet are an eternal reminder of the price He paid in showing His love for us. We have an opportunity to thank Him, and to cling to Him, by the way we live.
In the Gospel of John (15:9-17), Jesus gives us one of the most profound and important sayings in all of Scripture: “There is no greater love than this–to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This, of course, is what He has done for us, and it’s an eloquent testimony as to the immeasurable depths of His love. As St. John (1 John 4:7-10) tells us, God is love, and in order to know Him and receive the blessings He offers, we must open our hearts to Him in a loving way. God is able to break free of the limits we try to place upon Him, as Peter and the other early Jewish Christians saw when the Holy Spirit came down upon even unbaptized Gentiles. The incredible love that Jesus showed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday cannot be limited only to one nation or race; everyone is invited to experience it. There is a condition, however; as Jesus says in the Gospel, “You will live in My love if you keep My commandments,” and the most important of these commandments is that we love one another. He, more than anyone else, demonstrated such love, and so He, above everyone else, has the right to ask it of us.
There are many voices in our world, all clamoring for our attention and promising to fulfill our desires and to meet our needs. For instance, the Internet offers us many wonderful things. We can do research on almost any subject imaginable, we can play games, chat with friends, make new friends, schedule airline and hotel reservations, buy things on-line, and shop around for mortgages and car loans. All of us need to be on-line, we’re told; it will change our lives, and if we’re not hooked up, we’ll supposedly be left behind. Another voice that speaks very loudly in our society is that of money–specifically, wealth creation and financial planning. The secret to happiness, or so we’re told, is planning ahead for retirement, which we achieve by having the right brokerage firm, making smart investments, and picking the right mutual funds; stock tips, tax shelters, and high rates of return are now supposedly important for everyone, and if we want to be happy and successful, we dare not be left out. A third much-listened to voice in our society is that of medicine and health services. Not only is basic care possible, but–we’re told–now the secrets of extending life and making everyone feel better, younger, and healthier are being discovered. All we have to do is join this gym, belong to this HMO, use this diet or exercise program, take these nutritional supplements, or subscribe to this health magazine, and all our worries will be over.
All of these things–in their place–can be very good and beneficial, just as the different people in the story who were willing to adopt the orphaned boy were–in their own way–being very noble and generous. There was only one person in that town, however, who had actually risked his life on the boy’s behalf, and who had the scars to prove it. The lesson for us is very simple: in spite of the many wonderful things this life has to offer, Jesus alone deserves our ultimate allegiance and trust. He has the right to ask us to obey His commandments, to bear abundant fruit, and to love one another in His name. You and I are morally and spiritually indebted to Him, and so we must make sure it’s His voice we’re listening to, His values we’re living by, and His path we’re following. Jesus came to save us, and we can show our gratitude by loving Him, clinging to Him, and placing Him at the center of our lives.