A dental student last year asked one of his classmates a provocative question before their big gross anatomy test.
“Linda, would you cut off your “ring finger toe” in exchange for an “A” on this test?”
I quickly pointed out that if he was about to take an anatomy test and the only way he knew how to name a toe was to call it a finger–he was in big trouble.
But nonetheless, Linda pondered the question…
Linda then said “Well…maybe I would do it for an A in the COURSE…but not for one measely test.”
And all their other classmates agreed–amputation for an A.
As their chaplain I felt it my duty to tell them that they are going to freak people out when they wear flip-flops if they start cutting toes off their feet!
But…haven’t we all said things like this?
“I’d give my right arm for….that new car….the new iPad….a lower loan payment….a raise or a promotion….that cute woman or man?
What would you give your right arm for?
You don’t often hear someone say…I’d give my right eye…so children won’t go hungry tonight. Or so my roommate might not be depressed over that bad grade. Or so my neighborhood would be a safer place.
No don’t we leave those things for others to do most of the time? I know I do. I can find a hundred other things to do rather than to help out someone else. And when I see examples of others who do something so magnanimous–I sometimes say ” Oh she’s just trying to act “better than” all the rest of us.
There’s a great story about Mother Teresa, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She was washing the sores of a dying man in the slums and a young american tourist saw this and said, “Man I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!”
And Mother responded “Neither would I… But I would gladly do it for Jesus.”
You see, she wasn’t trying to be “better than” anyone…instead she was “better FOR” the encounter that she had with the Lord when she served the needs of the poor nearby because it was there that she met Jesus.
Now maybe none of us are exactly going to take on a “Mother Teresa-like project” at this point in our university careers or our professional lives, but, maybe we can start becoming a bit more sensitive to others by looking back on our lives and asking ourselves:
What are we “better for?”
What are the moments of our lives that we wouldn’t trade for anything? Maybe they’re simple one like that time you taught your little brother to shoot a basketball for the first time and saw his eyes light up and you were just so grateful to see that? Or maybe it’s the time you comforted your roommate after her boyfriend broke up with her and made her feel better about herself? Maybe you even took her out on the town. Or maybe it was when you studied together with a group of classmates and you all shored up each other’s weaknesses and you all got a better grade because of it? Aren’t we “better for” those moments?
Maybe it’s “a WHO”? Maybe there’s someone that you are just “better for” knowing? For me, Mickey Vertino is one of those people. Mickey worked in the Buffalo prisons for years. He’s had two shoulder surgeries and he has a bad knee and one would think that he would be resting easy in his retirement.
But instead Mickey is working in our neighborhood–trying to revitalize University Heights. We worked with Mickey last weekend down on W. Winspear Ave–making a flower box and clearing brush from the Linear Park pathway. Simple things perhaps, but tough work. And you’d never know Mickey had any kind of surgery because he was lifting heavier things than the rest of us who are a lot younger than he is.
Mickey would give his right arm for this neighborhood.
And because we have him to emulate…doesn’t he stand as a challenge to us and call to us to ask the question:
What would you give your right arm for? Your eye? A hand, that proverbial “ring finger toe”?
Or if that’s too severe—and it is—the question Jesus really is asking us tonight is not really about giving away eyes, or hands or feet… Instead Jesus asks only that we give our HEARTS—and nothing more.
For if we give our hearts–we give all of who we are.
Because we need to see with our hearts–not just our eyes. We need to feel with our hearts, not just our hands, and we need to have our hearts command our feet to take us places that we might not want to go–but when we do, we find we are better for those experiences and it’s there that we bump into God.
Jesus is reminding us that if we just look at suffering in the world and it doesn’t move our heart….well…we might as well tear our eyes out–because they’re not doing us much good.
And we can do this in simple ways…a great example from campus this week…
In our gross anatomy lab, I give out these little stress dolls before the first exam. (He doesn’t look like me AT ALL!) And the students love them—but there’s never enough for everyone. And a student came in late and he was really nervous about the exam and I watched one of our dental students run over to him and he decapitated his doll and hand the head to his classmate and they both calmed down together.
He saw that I caught him doing this and he looked at me and smiled and said “I shared!” I laughed but I want THAT guy to be my dentist! He’s a great and compassionate person. He saw his friend with his heart.
And it’s not just that doing things like this make us feel good…it’s that when we do things like this we find that we live more deeply because we allow God into our hearts and out of that experience—even if it doesn’t make us feel good, if if it’s hard work–God invites us into a deeper way of living. And when we experience that we find our hearts yearning for more of these experiences.
And perhaps that’s why we come here. Because don’t know that yearning already but sometimes need to be reminded (about once a week) that our hearts can indeed stretch much farther than we think they can? And when they do we are better for it and we find God has been lurking in our hearts all along.
And all we have to do to remember that is to look at the altar tonight because there we see God’s heart stretching to us–loving us, forgiving us and offering not just his heart but his body and blood for us. And it is more than enough.
And when we see that it calls us to yearn to offer ourselves, our hearts, and give just a bit more of who we are to those who require just a bit more from us.
Maybe you might give your right arm for that new car? But this week ask yourself this question: “To whom will I give my heart?”