The Power of One Act of Pure Love
26th Sunday Ordinary Time
25 September 2022
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my father in Los Angeles was watching television like just about everybody else on earth, viewing what was one of the greatest terrorist attacks in human history, the destruction of the Twin Towers, and the utter mercilessness of it all. My father had many good qualities, but charitable giving was not one of them (he was a tightwad!). Yet when he saw how many firemen had died in the collapse of the towers (over 300, the most in our nation’s history), he was so moved that he wrote out a check to give to the fireman’s fund for a rather large amount. Much to his surprise, as soon as he had written that check and signed it, the number of estimated dead so far in the attacks flashed on the television. That number matched the number on the check he had just written exactly.
So my father called me in Tillamook, where I was pastor at the time and he told me what had happened. I was truly shocked that he had even written the check at all (which was miraculous in itself), let alone a generous one. Then he told me the details and asked me what I thought this incredible coincidence meant. I told him that he knew exactly what it meant: God saw in this an act of pure un-selfish love, one for which he would receive no reward on earth at all save love. God had “noticed” his unselfish act (so uncharacteristic of him) and winked at him with that “coincidence,” or should I say “non-coincidence” of the number of dead matching the check number immediately after he wrote it.
The message was, “I just saw what you did for me and I love you for caring about my firemen and caring about me”. And I suspect that donation he made was one of the most important if not the most important investment he ever made in his life when he passed away.
One act of pure unselfish love. This means giving of oneself in such a way that we do not expect to receive something earthly in return, perhaps not even knowing who will receive our gift. It is, in short, a gift without expectation of a return, a gift of love. Of course, there is a return for such a gift… no gift pleases the Lord more than a gift of pure unselfish love, and even if we are not perfect, he makes it very clear that everything we have done for someone else that is not in expectation of being repaid will be repaid by the Lord in heaven beyond anything we can even imagine, because we did this for him.
In our gospel for this weekend, (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus tells a parable about a man who doesn’t care at all about anyone but himself. He just doesn’t notice them. He apparently doesn’t give to anyone at all. Lazarus is a poor beggar he passes by every day and gives nothing. The point is that he doesn’t give to anyone; he’s so wrapped up in himself that he misses the whole point of life, and one of the biggest lessons is that life is not all about “me”.
While 9/11 has come and gone, the opportunities to give without expectation of being noticed or rewarded (even if we do receive these later) are legion. The reason this matters so much to God is that this is precisely what his Son Jesus did for us. One pure ultimate act of unselfish love so that we might live forever. The more we imitate him, the more like him we will be – forever.