Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”— when you already have it with you. The proverbs of Solomon 3, 27 + 28

 

Dear readers,

 

I read the following story about the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926):

 

Rilke kept passing a square in a big city where an old woman was begging for money. She only stretched out her hand, otherwise showed no reaction. Rilke's companion gave the beggar woman a coin every now and then. Rilke never gave anything. One day the companion asked why he would never give anything. Rilke said, "We have to give to her heart, not her hand.”

 

A few days later, Rilke brought a beautiful white rose and placed it in the beggar woman's outstretched hand. The beggar woman raised her head, looked at Rilke, stood up with difficulty and kissed the stranger's hand. Then she left her place with the rose and remained gone for a week.

 

When she sat again in her old place and again held out her hand as before, Rilke's companion asked: What has she been living on for the last week? Rilke answered: "From the rose...".

 

This little story made me think. How much good can I do with my hand, but also with my heart? I think, to do good to another with heart and hand, that's what matters. I can also be contemptuous of a beggar by throwing a coin into his paper cup from above. I might also seek eye contact and still have a kind word for him.

 

But it is not only about the material need of poor fellow human beings. I must also not deny another what I owe him today. For example, do I refuse to pay an employee the wages he has earned, or do I put him off until next week? Do I pay back the money my parents lent me on time? Or do I return the borrowed lawn mower to my neighbor in perfect condition? Do I just make excuses and put it off until tomorrow?

 

The apostle James reminds us that such behavior can be sin: If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4, 17)

 

I can also be guilty of my fellow man and of God by failing to do what is good. The good is the support, the help that I can give. The good, that is what is due to another and I owe him. The good, that is a kind word for another. A loving gesture. An encounter with heart.

 

When Jesus was invited to a wedding party, the wine ran out. An embarrassment for the wedding couple. Jesus' mother asked her son for help. He helped and turned water into the best wine (John 4).

 

I cannot do such miracles. But every day offers me many opportunities to do something good for my fellow human beings and to say something good. Doing good, not only at Christmas. Living today with heart and hand.

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© 2021 Hans-Peter Nann, Frankfurt am Main