(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 9)
“Free Country” is a book by George Mahood. The book is a comedic recollection and telling of an adventure that the author and his friend Ben had bicycling from the bottom to the top of Great Britain. The goal of the trip was to rely only on the kindness and generosity of others.
They started at “Land’s End” with nothing, not even a bike. No money. No food. No place to stay. As the journey is recalled the author tells the stories of so many people who by their simple acts of kindness helped them along the way so they could traverse the 874 miles to their destination of “John O’Groats,” Scotland.
The acts of kindness, generosity and goodness that the various people shared with the two travelers are akin to the good deeds Jesus asks of his disciples then and now. He tells them and us: “You are the light of the world.”
This light becomes manifest or visible through our actions, our good deeds. Jesus tells us that our “light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
The prophet Isaiah gives us some of the classic ways to do good: “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.”
He, like Jesus, associates “light” with good actions saying that when these good deeds are done: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your wound shall be quickly healed.”
Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats expands these acts of kindness and then associates the generosity to those in need as an act of goodness to himself.
We see this clearly in the interchange between the sheep, who represent those who were kind to people in need, and the king: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
The psalmist likewise extols the value in good deeds, this time associating those good deeds as justice. He writes: “Well for the man who is gracious and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice…. His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear. Lavishly he gives to the poor; his justice shall endure forever; his horn shall be exalted in glory.”
In the Gospel account Jesus, when calling his disciples “the light of the world,” reminds us that the good deeds lead to something more than just satisfying the material needs of others. They can also have a spiritual dimension and lead others to glorify the Lord. Through the kindness shown by Christians to someone in need, they can offer the recipient an encounter with God.
God who is love is experienced in love. Good deeds are acts of love. The light which is within, that shines forth in kindness, is a light that will lead others to the Light through the very same encounter.
The opportunities abound each and every day to offer an act of kindness. Everybody has a different daily routine but just think for a moment of all the different people we might encounter from rising in the morning to going to sleep at night. Every one of these persons represent an opportunity for kindness.
It could be a simple greeting or even a smile. It could be a conversation. It could be helping with a particular need or offering a word of cheer. It could be voice of encouragement or an offer of consolation. It could be sharing a meal or offering a coat. Every person we meet gives us an opportunity to be good.
The simple acts of kindness the people across England and Scotland offered the two cyclists lifted their spirits and gave them a bit of hope encouraging them along the journey. Jesus invites us to acts of goodness, kindness and generosity “so that others may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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