Pay It Forward: Fourth Day of Advent

Today is “Pay It Forward” Day! If you haven’t seen the movie by this title (I’m sure it’s available on Netflix), treat yourself.

For those who haven’t (and won’t) see it, the rules of the day are simple: Do something unexpected and “big” for someone — preferably a stranger, preferably something they would have difficulty doing for themselves. Shovel someone’s snow, pay for someone’s gas or groceries, give a homeless person a warm coat. Give with the instructions to “pay it forward” — to show an unexpected kindness to another stranger.

Now, you can “pay it forward” to someone you know, perhaps casually, perhaps someone who is especially in need at this time of year. However, I will warn you — the effort can bring unexpected complications. It almost certainly can affect the relationship, and not always for the better.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus told us. The thing about the poor is, not all of them are noble or even grateful. If you get involved, you may find yourself getting quite aggravated over choices you see them making, choices that are bound to keep them in poverty. It’s the “Alfred P. Doolittle” Syndrome. In “My Fair Lady,” Eliza’s father discovers his daughter’s improved lot and seeks a bit of it for himself by making his case to the Professor:

… if Eliza is gonna have a bit out o’ this, why not me, too? Why not? Look at it my way. What am l? I ask ya, what am l? I’m one o’ the undeserving poor, that’s what I am. Think what that means to a man. It means he’s up against middle-class morality for all the time. If there’s anything goin’ an’ I ask for a bit of it, it’s always the same story:

‘”You’re undeservin’, so you can’t have it.'”

But my needs is as great as the most deservin’ widows that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death o’ the same ‘usband. I don’t need less than a deservin’ man,
I need more. I don’t eat less ‘earty than he does and I drink… a lot more. I’m playin’ straight with you. I ain’t pretendin’ to be deservin’. No, I’m undeservin’… and I mean to go on bein’ undeservin’. I like it an’ that’s the truth.

The thing is, it’s not our job to give those in need a character make-over. Our job is to shine a bit of God’s love into their hearts for a little while. Blessed Mother Teresa used to call it, “Seeing Jesus in distressing disguise.” No strings. No expectations. For love of God alone.

Now … for love of God, go out and Pay It Forward!

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