"Now as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking." – 2 Corinthians 8:7
Perhaps you’ve seen the Liberty Mutual television commercial that depicts ordinary people performing random acts of kindness. A group of weary travelers crowd around the luggage carousel, watching hawkishly for their suitcases, duffel bags and backpacks, ready to dive and swoop them up and be quickly on their way.
Suddenly, one of the waiting men realizes, too late, that his luggage is passing in front of him, and by the time he bends to retrieve it, the suitcase has moved beyond his reach. We can all imagine his sinking feeling – anyone who has checked baggage knows that if you don’t retrieve your bag it when it first appears, it can be a long wait until it circles round again. By then most of your fellow passengers will be gone, while you, a lone figure, remain wearily waiting.
But, just as it appears that the poor traveler’s fate is sealed, another waiting passenger, further around the carousel, notices the man’s misfortune and quickly scoops up his suitcase and hands it down to him. Meanwhile, another passenger, a woman who had observed the kind intercession of a stranger on behalf of another, is deeply impressed. Later that day, as she waits at an intersection before entering the crosswalk, she quickly moves to prevent another pedestrian from blindly stepping out in front of an oncoming car. In turn, that person goes on to help someone at his workplace who is struggling to retrieve items from a high shelf.
You’ve gotten the idea. Each random act of kindness begets another, and we are left with the impression that the chain of kind events will continue to propagate long after the commercial ends. The announcer says, “When people do the right thing, they call it being responsible.”
It is clear that the people depicted in the commercial did the right thing. But did they do it out of a sense of responsibility? I have not observed that most human beings feel responsible for another person with whom they have no relationship through kinship or friendship. More prevalent are the notions of taking responsibility for oneself and “pulling your self up by your bootstraps.” Those who are less fortunate are often thought of as having made poor choices in their lives, while those who fall on hard times are accused of not planning ahead. Yet, despite these broadly accepted societal beliefs, many of us do perform small acts of kindness, often called “courtesy,” and even greater acts of kindness, recognized as “generosity.” Some people choose to feel responsibility for others, while others choose not to.
As Christians we have no choice in the matter. We are, each of us, responsible for our fellow human beings. If we are indeed to be Christians, then that is a fact of our calling by our Savior. In 2 Corinthians 8, St. Paul writes about the churches of Macedonia, describing a people who have shown the grace of God through an abundance of generosity despite affliction and extreme poverty. Their joy at being saved by the grace of our Lord has filled them to overflow and show gracious generosity to others. Paul writes that the Macedonians were so filled with the joy of salvation that they felt compelled to show others the grace that God had shown toward them. So, they gave in accordance with their means and at times beyond their means, insisting on making donations to other struggling churches. Paul commends this example to the Corinthians, even as he recognizes their excellence in faith, sincerity and love for one another. But he challenges them to also excel in the grace of giving.
Grace begets grace. As Christians we lovingly accept responsibility for our brothers and sisters so that we may show forth to them the grace that was shown to us through love. Much as the random acts of kindness we passed along and multiplied, we are inspired to magnify God’s grace to his people not only by giving of our time and talent, but also by giving of our treasure for the work of his church.