This has been an amazing journey, reading through this book together. We hope God has illuminated your heart to something that will be your way to Outlive. Thanks for journeying with us! Lisa & Eric
Chapters posted will be made available on the Lisa & Eric page for one week. To purchase Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado, click here. All author royalties from the book will go towards building water wells in Uganda
That’s Jesus Playing that Fiddle
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.
—Matthew 25:40 (msg)
At 7:51 a.m., January 12, 2007, a young musician took his position against a wall in a Washington, D.C. metro station. He wore jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case as seed money, and began to play.
He played for the next forty-three minutes. He performed six classical pieces. During that time 1,097 people passed by. They tossed in money to the total of $32.17. Of the 1,097 people, seven—only seven—paused longer than sixty seconds. And of the seven, one—only one—recognized the violinist Joshua Bell.
Three days prior to this metro appearance staged by the Washington Post, Bell filled Boston’s Symphony Hall, where just fairly good tickets went for $100 a seat. Two weeks after the experiment, he played for a standing-room-only audience in Bethesda, Maryland. Joshua Bell’s talents can command $1,000 a minute. That day in the subway station, he barely earned enough to buy a cheap pair of shoes.
You can’t fault the instrument. He played a Stradivarius built in the golden period of Stradivari’s career. It’s worth $3.5 million. You can’t fault the music. Bell successfully played a piece from Johann Sebastian Bach that Bell called “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.”
But scarcely anyone noticed. No one expected majesty in such a context. Shoe-shine stand to one side, kiosk to the other. People buying magazines, newspapers, chocolate bars, and lotto tickets. And who had time? This was a workday. This was the Washington workforce. Government workers mainly, on their way to budget meetings and management sessions. Who had time to notice beauty in the midst of busyness? Most did not.
Most of us will someday realize that we didn’t either. From the perspective of heaven, we’ll look back on these days—these busy, cluttered days—and realize, That was Jesus playing the violin. That was Jesus wearing the ragged clothes. That was Jesus in the orphanage . . . in the jail . . . in the cardboard shanty. The person needing my help was Jesus.
There are many reasons to help people in need.
“Benevolence is good for the world.”
“We all float on the same ocean. When the tide rises, it benefits everyone.”
“To deliver someone from poverty is to unleash that person’s potential as a researcher, educator, or doctor.”
“As we reduce poverty and disease, we reduce war and atrocities. Healthy, happy people don’t hurt each other.”
Compassion has a dozen advocates.
But for the Christian, none is higher than this: when we love those in need, we are loving Jesus. It is a mystery beyond science, a truth beyond statistics. But it is a message that
Jesus made crystal clear: when we love them, we love him.
This is the theme of his final sermon. The message he saved until last. He must want this point imprinted on our conscience. He depicted the final judgment scene. The last day, the great Day of Judgment. On that day Jesus will issue an irresistible command. All will come. From sunken ships and forgotten cemeteries, they will come. From royal tombs and grassy battlefields, they will come. From Abel, the first to die, to the person being buried at the moment Jesus calls, every human in history will be present.
All the angels will be present. The whole heavenly universe will witness the event. A staggering denouement. Jesus at some point will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32). Shepherds do this. They walk among the flock and, one by one, with the use of a staff direct goats in one direction and sheep in the other.
Graphic, this thought of the Good Shepherd stepping through the flock of humanity. You. Me. Our parents and kids. “Max, go this way.” “Ronaldo, over there.” “Maria, this side.”
How can one envision this moment without the sudden appearance of this urgent question: What determines his choice? How does Jesus separate the people?
Jesus gives the answer. Those on the right, the sheep, will be those who fed him when he was hungry, brought him water when he was thirsty, gave him lodging when he was lonely, clothing when he was naked, and comfort when he was sick or imprisoned. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion does not save them—or us.
Salvation is the work of Christ. Compassion is the consequence of salvation.
The sheep will react with a sincere question: when? When did we feed, visit, clothe, or comfort you (vv. 34–39)?
Jesus’ answer will sound something like this. “Remember when you got off the subway? It was a wintry Washington morning. Commuters were bundled and busy and focused on their work. You were too, mind you. But then you saw me. Yes, that was me! Standing between the coffee kiosk and the newsstand, that was me. I was wearing a baseball cap and a scarf and playing a fiddle. The mob rushed past as if I were a plastic plant. But you stopped. I knew you were busy. You looked at your watch twice. But still you stopped and remembered me. You stepped over to the coffee stand, bought me a cup, and brought it over. I want you to know I never forgot that.”
Jesus will recount, one by one, all the acts of kindness. Every deed done to improve the lot of another person. Even the small ones. In fact, they all seem small. Giving water.
Offering food. Sharing clothing. As Chrysostom pointed out, “We do not hear, ‘I was sick and you healed me,’ or ‘I was in prison and you liberated me.’” The works of mercy are simple deeds. And yet, in these simple deeds we serve Jesus. Astounding this truth: we serve Christ by serving needy people.
The Jerusalem church understood this. How else can we explain their explosion across the world? We’ve only considered a handful of their stories. What began on Pentecost with the 120 disciples spilled into every corner of the world. Antioch. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. The book of Acts, unlike other New Testament books, has no conclusion. That’s because the work has not been finished.
Many years ago I heard a woman discuss this work. She visited a Catholic church in downtown Miami, Florida, in 1979. The small sanctuary overflowed with people. I was surprised.
The event wasn’t publicized. I happened to hear of the noon-hour presentation through a friend. I was living only a few blocks from the church. I showed up a few minutes early in hopes of a front-row seat. I should have arrived two hours early. People packed every pew and aisle. Some sat in windowsills. I found a spot against the back wall and waited. I don’t know if the air conditioning was broken or nonexistent, but the windows were open, and the south coast air was stuffy. The audience was chatty and restless. Yet when she entered the room, all stirring stopped.
No music. No long introduction. No fanfare from any public officials. No entourage. Just three, maybe four, younger versions of herself, the local priest, and her.
The father issued a brief word of welcome and told a joke about placing a milk crate behind the lectern so we could see his guest. He wasn’t kidding. He positioned it, and she stepped up, and those blue eyes looked out at us. What a face. Vertical lines chiseled around her mouth. Her nose, larger than most women would prefer. Thin lips, as if drawn with a pencil, and a smile naked of pretense.
She wore her characteristic white Indian sari with a blue border that represented the Missionaries of Charity, the order she had founded in 1949. Her sixty-nine years had bent her already small frame. But there was nothing small about Mother Teresa’s presence.
“Give me your unborn children,” she offered. (Opening words or just the ones I remember most? I don’t know.) “Don’t abort them. If you cannot raise them, I will. They are precious to God.”
Who would have ever pegged this slight Albanian woman as a change agent? Born in a cauldron of ethnic strife, the Balkans. Shy and introverted as a child. Of fragile health. One of three children. Daughter of a generous but unremarkable businessman. Yet somewhere along her journey, she became convinced that Jesus walked in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” and she set out to love him by loving them. In 1989 she told a reporter that her Missionaries had picked up around fifty-four thousand people from the streets of Calcutta and that twenty-three thousand or so had died in their care.
I wonder if God creates people like Mother Teresa so he can prove his point: “See, you can do something today that will outlive your life.”
There are several billion reasons to consider his challenge. Some of them live in your neighborhood; others live in jungles you can’t find and have names you can’t pronounce.
Some of them play in cardboard slums or sell sex on a busy street. Some of them walk three hours for water or wait all day for a shot of penicillin. Some of them brought their woes on themselves, and others inherited the mess from their parents.
None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus.
Who would want to miss a chance to do that?
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”
(Matthew 25:34–36 nlt)
O Lord, where did I see you yesterday . . . and didn’t recognize you? Where will I encounter you today . . . and fail to identify you? O my Father, give me eyes to see, a heart to respond, and hands and feet to serve you wherever you encounter me! Transform me, Lord, by your Spirit into a servant of Christ, who delights to meet the needs of those around me. Make me a billboard of your grace, a living advertisement for the riches of your compassion. I long to hear you say to me one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I pray that today I would be that faithful servant who does well at doing good. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Questions for Discussion
1. What various motivations move people to act compassionately?
2. For Christians, what is the key motivator to compassionate action?
3. On the Day of Judgment, how will Jesus separate the righteous from the unrighteous, according to Matthew 25:31–46? Why is this passage so hard to take at face value?
4. Which group was surprised at Jesus’ choice in Matthew 25? Was it the sheep, the goats, or both? Why would they be surprised?
5. How are you trying to outlive your life now in ways you were not six months ago?
Ideas for Action
■ Go back through this book in the next few days, and note the verses or quotes that most gripped your heart. On a separate sheet of paper or a few cards, write down these words and put them in a place that will keep the truths in front of you. Place them on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on your desk, in your purse, in your wallet, or on your door. Don’t forget the message and mission you have taken from Outlive Your Life.
■ Finalize your personal action plan with the goal of outliving your life. Determine how your gifts, passion, and opportunities best fit into God’s plan to serve your neighborhood, community, and world. Overlay that template on your personal calendar to put your plan into action.
Reprinted by permission. Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved