What Do You Do When No One is Watching?
John Ed Mathiston told his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama a story about kindness:
Not long ago, a man from the Middle East walked into a new car showroom and asked to speak with a particular salesperson. The receptionist called for him, the fellow walked to the front, and they greeted each other.
The man said, “I’d like to buy some trucks.”
Some trucks. That caught the salesman’s attention.
“What did you have in mind, sir?”
“I want to buy 750 heavy duty trucks and 250 pickups.”
The salesman is stunned. Surely someone is pulling a prank. This cannot be happening.
The man pulls out a letter of credit with a huge American bank. It is legitimate. This is the real deal.
The salesman says, “Sir, you know you can go to Detroit and buy those trucks at a huge discount.”
The customer said, “Sir, 10 years ago I was a college student in your city. Being from the Middle East made it hard for Americans to befriend me. I soon discovered you have to have a car in America, so I came to you. I picked out a car. You said to me, ‘I can sell you that car and I’ll make a nice commission. But you would not be happy with it. It’s more car than you need.’ So you sold me a smaller car. It was the nicest thing anyone in America had ever done for me. And I decided I would repay you when I got a chance. So, I want to buy one thousand trucks through you.”
Dr. Mathiston, who told that story, was pastor of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery (until he retired in 2008). I heard him tell the story, wrote it down, and then used it on the radio in New Orleans. Today I found it in my journal for that year, 1999. No other details are given, nor did the pastor cite his source. But it’s a great reminder that sometimes small acts of kindness reap great rewards. But whether they do or do not, doing right is always the right thing to do.
Historians tell us that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto studied and traveled in America in the 1920s. He was once turned away from a San Francisco barber shop because he was Japanese. And he never forgot the slight. In 1941 and for two years after, he oversaw Japan’s attacks on the United States, at Pearl Harbor and beyond.
We may assume the barber went home that day without a clue as to the chain of events he had just triggered (or at least contributed to). Just a small thing, showing prejudice to someone with no power. Surely nothing would ever come from that. He’d done it countless times.
Showing kindness or acting with malice. Small things. And in most cases, unnoticed.
But God sees.
“The eyes of the Lord roam to and fro in the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
The recipient of those small acts of kindness or malice is forever changed, however slight, for better or for ill.
In the heart of that chapter, our Lord says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Small things. Small people, if you will pardon the expression. It means people under the radar. Those unnoticed by the world, slighted by the powers, not “somebodies.”
What we do for them goes unseen by the passing parade. But God sees.
This may be the biggest test of all: What we do when no one is looking. How we treat a child. How we relate to the forgotten elderly in a nursing home or hospital bed. Or the homeless person on the street.
“I was a stranger and you took me in.” (Matthew 25:35).
Apparently, this matters to the Lord far more than our great displays of talent and endowment.
A seminary professor once gave a low grade to a gifted student after he delivered an inspired sermon on love to the class. The student was incensed. “I thought it went over well. The class received it well.”
The professor assured him he had done well. “You are as gifted as anyone I’ve ever had in my class,” he said.
“Then why the C?” said the student.
The professor asked him to sit down. “I want to tell you something I saw on the street two days ago.”
At the corner of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard, the professor said, he had been in the turn lane behind two other cars. An elderly woman was driving the lead car, and this seminary student was second. The professor was third.
When the light turned green, signaling that those in the turn lane could proceed, the elderly woman was slow to react. The student behind her laid down on his car horn. Finally, in exasperation, the student drove his car around the woman’s car, passing her in the intersection. All the while, he was leaning out of his window yelling harsh words to the woman.
“And two days later,” the professor said, “that student stood in my class and delivered a sermon on love. Clearly, he doesn’t have a clue what love means. I probably should have given you a failing grade.”
The student never forgot that lesson, harsh though it may have felt at the time.
There came a day when the Lord and His disciples stood in the temple treasury area, watching how people were giving their contributions. That’s Mark 12:41.
That day, the disciples noticed people bringing large sums and dropping them into the huge brass runs designated for the upkeep of the temple, for the support of the priest and for feast days, and for benevolence. But Jesus paid little attention to them.
He pointed out the little widow lady who dropped in two small copper coins and went on her way.
She had no idea that the Lord of Heaven and earth had noticed.
“Truly I say to you,” said the Lord Jesus. “This poor widow put in more than anyone else. They all put in out of their excess. But she out of her poverty, has put in all she owned, everything she had to live on.”
The Lord was mightily impressed by the smallest gift made that day, by the least conspicuous person.
He’s that way. He sees and cares. And remembers.
Oh, does He ever remember!
And by the way, that little lady who brought the 10 cents for the offering, she just made honorable mention in Holy Scripture. (Here we are two thousand years later, still talking about her!) Boy, she got her money’s worth, didn’t she?
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