Does it matter? Really. Does it matter we see the results of doing good…and doing it well?
Certainly. For most of us. We are valued when someone responds…promptly. This morning as my “critters” walked me, a new neighbor, two blocks away, was talking on her phone in the driveway. She completed the call. Faith, our English Cocker was with me at the time. Her middle name is Friendly and Caring—you might hyphenate that. The lady and I had a hello, how are you visit. It was a lovely start to my day.
When Faith and I moved on she said, “Sir? I hope you have a really good Monday.”
I responded, “Ma’am? I ‘accuse’ you of helping that happen. Thank you.’
She put her hands to her face…and said, “Oh my, that mean I’m worth something?”
I nodded, pointed to Faith, “Faith and I confirm that. 10-4.”
A moment, a brief surface exchange. And yet, the brief visit ended up not remaining on the surface.
However. Seldom does that happen. Most of the time when we do our best to be affirming, we don’t see the result.
To that end, I was more than surprised. I was shocked. I served in Eugene, Oregon from 1969-1973. Not a particularly positive ministry…but the youth and I got along really well. Whatever.
Twenty years later I attended a minister’s seminar at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. A lady came up to me, shook my hand and said, “Mark Miller?” I admitted the name was accurate. She continued, “You may not remember me, but I was a member in our Eugene Church.” [She was right, I didn’t recognize her…and her name stayed beyond mind’s reach.] She then said, “I never said anything at the time, but one Sunday you preached a sermon that turned my life around…I went home and told my husband that your sermon convinced me I should become a minister.”
I was stunned. I think I asked if she remembered the sermon. I sure didn’t. You’d think I would have remembered. Since I preached no more than once a month. “No, I don’t. All I know it hit me in the heart and soul…and prompted me to take a new path. I’m grateful to you.” Oh, my. A good seed I had no idea I was the planter.
And I’m sure. For every one of us…getting results of doing the right thing, of being good, of helping someone…helps us feel good, for sure, better.
Still, what we can never know…and I don’t think we should ever know…is what kind of ground we’re planting the seed on. We don’t do the right thing for any other primary purpose than…
Well, I now share how Tom Ehrich puts it…his reflection today…on planting seeds, doing the right thing. One of the reasons I was impressed is he wrote this commentary from Gambier, Ohio, where my son, Andrew, went to college, Kenyon. But, even more, it’s the statements on why we do good and do it well; why we do the right thing.
Thanks, Tom…hopefully we’re not rocky ground that is impenetrable to your insights.
Jesus answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13.37)
GAMBIER, OH — I started my travel day on the outskirts of Cleveland. Where to have breakfast? After a walk, I made the only logical choice: Bob Evans. Always my go-to eatery if one is nearby. Why? They train their wait staff to be friendly.
Sure enough, I found myself in the capable, cheerful hands of a woman who understands early-morning diners. Her good seed was the little things. Her sense of timing, her cheerful but not cloying demeanor, her remembering my few requests. I left feeling well-fed, well-treated, and ready for my final hours of driving.
I left her a good tip, of course. But she will never know the impact of her good seed. Neither will the surly waitress at a Waffle House who couldn’t conceal her rage at life ever know what her bad seed did to my day.
We don’t know the outcomes of our behavior. We rarely see how an “I love you” helps a child stand tall, or how an expression of interest in another’s work helps their sense of pride, or how a kind word helps a sad or angry or wounded person cope. The sower plants, but doesn’t control. If we plant good seed, as Jesus did, we make the world a little better, even if we never see the harvest happen.
What compels us to plant good seed? If there is no demonstrable payoff for sowing good seed, or demonstrable penalty for planting bad seed, why do we bother? That’s the mystery of goodness. The good person does good even when no one is looking. The good writer stays with a thought an extra few minutes and strains for the right word whatever the size of his audience. The good friend gives kindness whether or not the gift is acknowledged.
The sower of good seed does the right thing because it is the right thing. People’s lives will change even if the sower doesn’t see it. The sower of good seed trusts in God’s providence.
Jesus saw himself as a sower off good seed. He moved about so much that he probably had little inkling of his impact. Even his ever-present disciples showed little comprehension. But he knew that, in God’s good time, in God’s harvest at “the end of the age,” the good seed would yield a bountiful harvest, and the evil one’s bad seed would be seen clearly as weeds. He didn’t need to fight every battle right then. He just needed to do good.
Chances are that my waitress at Bob Evans will never see the impact of her kindness. I doubt that she minds. She struck me as someone who does good because it is good.