Like many of you, I sometimes get on a television binge watching kick. Netflix is “evil” in this regard, making it soooooo easy to kill a few hours (days?) catching up on some nostalgic show that you remembered watching when you were still in the womb. While most of the time the shows are somewhat mindless, every now and again there is a gem that challenges and inspires. Such was a show I discovered a couple of weeks ago. It is called “The Kindness Diaries”. What first attracted me to the show as a skimmed Netflix titles was the picture of the host riding a bright yellow sidecar motorcycle. As you may have seen in my bio, I am a sucker for all things two wheels. So I thought I would give this show a spin.
The premise is that the host travels from Los Angeles and heads east to complete a circuit around the world. But here is the kicker, he brings NO MONEY!! He does have a three person crew documenting the trip but they cannot help him with anything. He relies on the kindness of complete strangers for food, housing, gas…everything!! Even warm clothes when he gets to Canada and forgets that it tends to get a bit nippy up there.
It was amazing how people would extend themselves for him expecting nothing in return. What they did not know, however, is that once per episode the crew chose someone truly in need, who extended themselves for this strange person, and gave them something that enriched their lives. One man in India, who rented and drove a rickshaw, received a new one so he did not have to pay rent on the one he was driving. Another family, living only under a piece of metal that served as a roof, received a new house.
So, who do you think were the most generous of the lot? The people he met in the south of France? The wealthy tourists in Lake Como, Italy? Hardly. Those who had the least, were the most generous with what they had. The most amazing story for me, was a man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the USA. The host asked him for a place to stay and the man said he would but he didn’t have a home. He lived on the street. But, he said, “you are welcome to stay with me tonight”. That night the host of the program had a blanket and pillow on the stoop of a public building. And before he left to continue his journey, the homeless man presented HIM some new underwear for his trip. A homeless man who had next to nothing, gave a bit of what he had to a person he just met the day before. Can you imagine his shock when he was told that he was to receive free education to help him start a new career? Oh, and the best gift (at least it would be for me)? A ride in the sidecar.
It was this story I was thinking of when looking over today’s reading from Sirach. What are the things that the Lord wants from us in sacrifice? Burnt offerings? Putting on sackcloth and ashes? Not according to Sirach. He lists Peace, charity, refraining from evil and avoiding injustice. Does he mean we should travel around the world or take a political stance and demonstrate for justice? Well, maybe. But I think God is instructing us, through Sirach, to look at those things we can do every day for each other, and do so with joy in our hearts being thankful for the opportunity to share ourselves with the Christ that is in everyone we meet.
And what about all this animal sacrifice we see in the Old Testament and during the time of Christ, and still going on in some parts of the world? Images of the feast of Passover in Jerusalem haunt me sometimes. Maybe it’s because I am a veterinarian but descriptions of blood running through the streets and the sounds of thousands of lambs crying out as they are slaughtered within a single day are disturbing. Maybe it is the vet in me that somehow sees Christ’s sacrificing himself once for all as a way for God to say, “Enough already with the animal sacrifice (feel free to add a bit of Yiddish accent here). Can’t you think of another way to say thank you to me?” And we have a way. Thanks to the teaching of God through the incarnation of the word that is Christ. He was the model of love. He showed us how we should treat each other.
Lent begins tomorrow and part of the Lenten observation, is fasting. And fasting is obviously good. It teaches us strength of character and discipline in the small things so that we can better be able to be strong when life throws us a curve. But as Sirach says, sacrifice is not a bribe to the Lord but an opportunity to give of yourself. Isaiah tells us in chapter 58:5-12 what a good fast is. Share food with the hungry, clothe the naked and to not turn away from your own flesh and blood.
As we begin Lent 2017, give up something like chocolate or candy, but also give up something more. Give up a bit of yourself to those that you meet each and every day that will surely need something that you have to offer. Happy Lent.