Has anyone done you a good turn ?
Has anyone ever done you a good turn? I'm not thinking of a small thing like opening a door for you – that – by the way – merits the presentation of a certificate in our primary schools these days. I don't mean something that happens regularly or all the time – like making you an early morning cup of tea or late evening nightcap. I'm thinking of something important which turned out to be significant at least for a time in your life. My great uncle Thomas Reid was slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan. He once said, “Never help anyone – they won't forgive you”. There is a subtle observation there. It can be embarrassing to need and to receive help on occasions in life. We may feel awkward of indebted thereafter. People are embarrassed to come to the Foodbank. Who knows - later in life they may feel angry and ashamed that they had to do so. Family relationships can even break down over acts of kindness. So perverse is our human nature at times. Frank Sinatra was going to horse racing one day with his pals and bodyguards. He passed a 'hobo' or 'king of the road' as they say in America, a street beggar. Sinatra stopped and gave the man a 10 dollar bill. Later that afternoon, Sinatra was in the bar having a drink and the man walked unsteadily over to him, reeking of alcohol, offered him a 20 dollar bill and demanded, “Sing 'Melancholy Baby'” for me. He had put the 10 dollars on a rank outsider which had won at 50 to 1.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Roman Catholic priest taken prisoner to Auschwitz by the Nazis. He was ill treated for continuing to administer the sacraments. After some prisoners escaped 10 men were chose at random to be put in the starvation cell to die slowly. One of them called, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!". Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Unaccountably, the Germans agreed to this. According to an eye witness, an assistant janitor at that time, in his prison cell, Maximilian Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer and worship and after two weeks he was the last survivor. They had to put him down with a carbolic acid injection. The other man survived and spent the rest of his life speaking about what had happened in Auschwitz. He said, at "so long as he ... has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe”. Kolbe was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Franciszek Gajowniczek and his family attended as guests. He lived to be 93 and died in peace. Yet he had lived in the shadow of Maximilian Kolbe whose example shone brighter than even the telling of his self sacrifice.
The well known story 'A Tale of two Cities' – it's not about Glasgow and Edinburgh - is a historical novel by Charles Dickens published in 1859. The plot centres on the years leading up to the French Revolution and culminates in the Jacobin Reign of Terror. Set in London and Paris, it tells the story of two men, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who look similar but are very different in traits. Sydney Carton is a young, sloppy but brilliant lawyer who bears an uncanny likeness to Charles Darnay, the prisoner he is defending. He uses his great skill to save Darnay from death. Darnay returns to England. Carton however is an alcoholic who faces a great lack of self-confidence. He develops an unrequited love for Lucie Manette, which he tells her about. He says that he would do anything for her or for anybody that she loves. Darnay returns to France, and is arrested for being an aristocrat. Before his execution by guillotine, Carton steps in and tricks Darnay into trading places with him, for Lucie and for the sake of their friendship. His final words are among the most famous in English literature: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”.
Jesus has done all of us the great good deed; he paid the ultimate price of his life. Though he was carried through his ordeal by knowing its purpose in his Father's plan, we should not minimise the cost to him. He was young and strong and his body was not ready for death. His humanity resisted and his mind and heart baulked at the ensuing humiliation and pain. Judas Iscariot represents the least noble of human characteristics in comparison and contrast. Judas is a disloyal friend; he is interested in money; he cannot tell good from evil; he is flattered to be briefly of use to powerful people, the classical useful idiot; he has no understanding of God's plan and he does not trust Jesus. We might like to think that we are not so like him. Perhaps though we are like the other disciples. They simply lost faith and hope. Wearied and confused they thought Jesus had failed in his Messianic purpose. They saw no value in his trial, torture and cruel death. They kept their distance lest the same happen to them. When Spartacus was crucified in 71 BC as a rebel against the state of Rome, 6000 of his followers were also crucified with him. When the Jewish hero Judas Maccabeus died in battle also against Rome in 160BC his followers fought and died with him. The book of Acts lists a number people who claimed messiahship. Gamaliel who was a Pharisee spoke of 'Theudas who claimed to be somebody, and about 400 men rallied to him'. There was also 'Judas the Galilean, ...who led a band of people in revolt' (Acts 5:36-37). Acts also talks of an Egyptian who led four thousand men into the wilderness to be murdered (Acts 21:38). In these cases, the leader died along with his followers.
But in Jesus' case, he died alone. He took it all upon himself. John's Gospel records him saying that he had not lost any of the followers entrusted to him – excepting Judas. Some of these disciples did later suffer for Jesus but by then they knew why and accepted their martyrdom as part of the plan of salvation for the world. We live not in the shadow of what Jesus did for us but in its light and love and truth. Jesus says in John's Gospel that sin is defined by not believing in Jesus, not accepting his gift, not receiving him into our lives. God does not hold up our human sins for all to see. He does not keep a record of all the wrong we have managed to do. It is not that he takes it all lightly. But the focus is on repairing the damage to us and to others. Repairing the damage to humanity and to the world. Reconciliation and peace are what matter and these are possible through what Jesus did for us on Calvary. Has anyone ever done you a good turn? Jesus did. Do not feel embarrassed. Do not feel ashamed. Be uplifted, liberated, ennobled, inspired. Jesus wants you to benefit from what he did. All your days and beyond. Don't let Jesus die for nothing. Accept his gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Accept his call to personal friendship, accompanying and service. Maybe too, because of Jesus, you can do another person a good turn. Maybe you can tell them about Jesus and what he has done for them.