January 28, 2019
Once, when I was a seminarian studying theology, I was asked for some money by a man at the train station. I figured that he would buy alcohol with any money that I gave him, so I told him that I would not give him any money, but I would buy him something to eat. He seemed rather indecisive about this, but followed me into the cafeteria where I purchased a sandwich and coffee for him. When we walked outside, he took the sandwich and threw it at me, hitting me in the face with it. Of course, I was glad that he did not throw the coffee, too! In any case, I was taken aback, and once I was seated on the train, I stared out the window for two hours thinking about this odd encounter.
It slowly dawned upon me that I had made many assumptions about this man without any real information. I had assumed that he was an alcoholic and I had assumed that he would buy alcohol with any money I gave him. I also did not think about how difficult it might be for an older person—he was probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s—to ask a young person for help. But, perhaps most importantly of all, I realized that I was thinking more about me than about him. As I looked out the window of the train, I realized that I had been thinking about the good job I was doing, prudently giving him food instead of money, and how good I was in not ignoring this man in need!
It suddenly dawned upon me that I was lacking one important thing: love. I did not treat this man with love and respect. I did not focus on him and his needs. Rather, I was more interested in how good my response was to his plight. Paul’s words began to ring in my ears: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I had good intentions, but they were not motivated by love. So, I was a merely a resounding gong or a clashing symbol.