One night, over 125 years ago, there was a fierce storm in the city of Philadelphia, with a strong wind and driving rain. An elderly man and woman entered a small hotel after midnight, and asked the clerk, “Could you possibly give us a room for the night? All the big hotels are full.” The clerk, a young man named George, answered, “Every room is taken, sir, but I can’t send you out in this storm in the middle of the night—so you can stay in my room.” When the gentleman asked, “But where you will sleep?,” George answered, “Oh, don’t worry about me; I’ll be all right.” The next morning, when the guest paid his bill, he told the clerk, “You’re the type of manager who should be in charge of the best hotel in the United States—so maybe I’ll build it for you.” George smiled and forgot about the incident, but two years later he received a registered letter containing a round-trip train ticket to New York City and a note from his guest on that stormy night, asking him to come meet with him. When George arrived in New York, the older man took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, pointed to a brand new hotel, and said, “There’s the hotel I’ve built for you to manage.” George was speechless, for his benefactor was the multi-millionaire William Waldorf Astor, and the hotel was named after him: the original Waldorf Astoria, the finest hotel in the country (Tonne, Five-Minute Homilies, p. 80).
Through his good deed performed two years earlier, George planted a seed of kindness—and it took root and blossomed in a wonderful and amazing manner he could never have expected. This idea can be true in an even more powerful way with faith, for God’s grace can do far more than we could ever expect. Planting a seed of faith with genuine love can change our lives forever.
We’ve all had the experience of going out of our way to be thoughtful or helpful to someone, only to have the person fail to notice or acknowledge our kindness. Sacred Scripture assures us that this never happens with God; He sees our sacrifices, and responds to them with overwhelming love. The prophet Jeremiah foretold a new covenant, or sacred agreement between God and His people—to be written not on tablets of stone, as with the Ten Commandments in the days of Moses, but written on the people’s hearts. This interior law of love would make it possible for God to forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more. This wonderful gift of reconciliation came about through the saving death of Jesus, who sacrificed His own will to do that of the Father. As the Letter to the Hebrews states, Jesus remained reverent and obedient in spite of terrible suffering, and God responded by raising Him up to new life and making Him the source of salvation for all who believe in Him. Jesus Himself foretold this amazing event, stating that the grain of wheat which falls to the earth and dies brings forth a rich harvest. In spite of His deep, very real anguish, Jesus remained primarily concerned with His Father’s glory—and this is the example He wants us to follow. If we share in Christ’s obedience, we will share in His glory, for He says, “Anyone who serves Me the Father will honor.”
At the end of a school year a first-grade class held a field day with different games and competitions, and one little girl—a natural athlete—won many ribbons, including a blue ribbon for a first-place finish. When she came home that day, however, she didn’t have the blue ribbon, and her mother—who had watched her win it—asked where it was. “Oh,” she said, “Bobby was crying because he didn’t win a first-place ribbon, so I gave it to him.” The proud mother hugged her daughter and told her that her she had been very generous, but the girl said, “Why not? After all, I knew that I had won, and Bobby needed the ribbon more than I did” (Michael Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, p. 327).
That simple incident is precisely the kind of generous and self-giving behavior Jesus wants to see in His followers. Sometimes there are ways in everyday life in which we are called to be like the grain of wheat which falls to the earth and dies, thereby producing much fruit. For instance, when we’re in a bad mood but we make a special effort not to take it out on someone else, that’s a sacrifice on our part—and it’s one that gives glory to God and allows His grace to be present and active within us. When we’re tempted to gossip or to criticize another person, but we instead hold our tongue, and even pray for the person, we’re dying to self—and letting God’s love be planted deeper in our hearts. When we make ourselves get up for Mass on Sunday morning, even though we’d rather sleep in, we’re planting a seed of faith—and it may not be until we reach Heaven that we fully understand how greatly God blesses us for this act of fidelity.
So many times our good deeds take on a life of their own, creating what we might call a “ripple effect of grace,” or a “chain reaction of love”; our friendly smile, our encouraging word, our helping hand just may make a lasting difference in someone else’s life, producing spiritual dividends that last long after we’ve forgotten the little bit of sacrifice involved. God sometimes works dramatic miracles to remind us of His greatness, but more often He scales His goodness down to our own level and works through our simple good deeds, in order to remind us that we can be, and are called to be, instruments of His grace and living signs of His love and mercy toward all people.
A young hotel clerk named George did a good deed, and a few years later was rewarded on a scale he could never have imagined. The hope of reward should not be our primary motive for doing good, of course, but it is true that every act of love carries within it the seed of an ongoing and lasting blessing. Jesus was glorified because He surrendered Himself to the will of God and did all things for His Father’s glory; He was lifted up on the Cross so that He might invite all people to eternal life in His Kingdom. If we follow Him and serve Him, we too will become like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies—and our spiritual harvest will make us truly rich for all eternity.