This is the third in a sermon series on Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Questions.”
In Tolstoy’s story, a certain king believed that if he knew the answers to three specific questions he would never fail in anything.The three questions were:
When is the right time?
Who are the right (or most important) people?
What is the right thing (or most important) thing to do?
So, he invited all the learned men to come to him and answer the questions. But they all answered the questions differently. In answer to the third question some said learning science, others said skill in warfare, and others said religions worship. Since the king was clearly much wiser than he gave himself credit for, he traveled to see the wise old hermit. There the king discovers the answers to his questions. The right time is now. The most important person is the one you are with. And, the right thing to do is to do good for the one you are with.
(For the full video version, click here.)
In how many places, and in how many ways does the Bible tell us to do what is good and what is right? 1 Thessalonians 5:15 is but one of them: “Always seek what is good for each other and all people!” Other passages include:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
- What you do to the least of these you do to me.
- And then there are all the stories where someone in need runs up to Jesus and he puts everything aside to help them.
We almost always know what the right thing is to do in any situation… but what percentage of the time do we actually do the right thing?
St. Augustine, an early bishop of the Catholic Church in North Africa, and well-known for his philosophical and theological writings encouraged people to “ask God that you may love one another… you should love all people, even your enemies, not because they are your brothers and sisters, but so they may become your brother and sister.” The key here may be to “ask God for help,” because as easy as the answers to these three questions seem to be, doing them consistently is a challenge.
So, why is it so difficult? What gets in the way? How about these things:
- Our judgments about that person… do they deserve our help? Do they look nice? Do they look like they need help?
- Our own agendas… we’re so busy we sometimes don’t even notice the people around us.
- Our egos…
- Our prejudice…
- Our fears…
Here’s a story about how this works when one can put aside their judgments, fears and prejudices. One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African-American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxi cab.
She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole
For that young man, clearly the most important time was the time he spent helping Mrs. Cole, she was the most important person, and what he did for her was the most important thing.
If only we could always follow hearts that are filled with compassion not contempt, justice not judgment, hope not despair, caring not apathy. If we could only cultivate that expansive, loving kind of heart and then follow it with every person we are with, how would that change our interactions? How would we treat our spouse, our partner? How would we treat our children, our parents?How would we treat the server at the restaurant, the check-out person at the store, our cleaning person, or our lawn person? How would it change the way we interact with the person we pass on the street? Or stand in the elevator with?
It seems to me that it could change the world. “Always seek what is good for each other and all people!”
Love & Light!