In Paraguay, there is a town seated on top of a landfill. Every day, fifteen hundred tons of solid waste are dumped where people live. The families there are supported by the work their parents and older siblings do recycling. As you might imagine, there is not much there to give them hope of a better life, of one removed from the constant stench and social ridicule. And yet, when musician and ecological technician Favio Chavez saw the situation, he felt compelled to help. In fact, he created an orchestra fueled by instruments made from products found in the landfill, taught by Chavez himself, and made entirely out of the children of this town.
While much has been made of the story – videos of the Recycled Orchestra have been watched more than a million times – it all began with one man’s recognition of the possibility in others and his decision to extend kindness to those who others ignored.
Jesus put a value on kindness that we see throughout his life and teaching.
In Matthew 5:38-42, he says, “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.'” Jesus’ expectation of his disciples is that they would a) not respond angrily or violently and b) that they would do good even for the person who asks of them unfairly.
A few verses later, he adds, “‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.'”
Kindness is an act of worship to Jesus – and one to be done privately, personally, intimately. It is not done for the praise of other humans, but for the development of the believer’s relationship with God. Kindness, Jesus says, is one of the things to proverbially “catch God’s eye.” Sounds important, heavy even.
The beauty of Jesus’ teaching and life is that it highlights those who are kind, whether they do great things or simple ones. The quantity of their kindness does not matter as much as the quality of their kindness.
In Luke 5, a group of men want their paralyzed friend to merely find himself in the presence of Jesus. When the obvious path to Jesus is blocked, these men provide us the best biblical example of breaking and entering, letting him down through the roof! Their faith – no mention of the man himself – cause Jesus to forgive his sons and heal him.
In Luke 7, when the rich host of a dinner party invites Jesus to his home and fails to perform customary hospitality, a prostitute bathes Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dries them with her hair. We can tell that her expenses would have set her back significantly but she simply washes Jesus’ feet. It’s the action, not the expense.
Later, in Luke 15, Jesus rebuts a learned leader with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, telling how a man’s ancestral enemy proves to both save his life and pay for his recovery. We don’t know how the expenses would’ve impacted the Samaritan; we don’t know if he was ever paid back. We are clear that he took the time to be fully present and kind when others proved too busy or too preoccupied.
Over and over again, looking at examples of kindness in the gospels, I found that kindness wasn’t always extravagant but it was often unexpected. The kindness we see highlighted here again and again was not done with pomp and circumstance but was the opposite of how the person in the story was expected to behave. Kindness showed up when A+B should’ve equalled C, and something good happened anyway.
Find your way blocked, after having carried a paralyzed friend many miles? Common sense says that you should return home.
Recognize that you’re a sinful person, see the power of Jesus? Turn your earnings over to God and find a better lifestyle, say the normal advice for conversion, but certainly, don’t blow your earnings on perfume.
Discover a rival, an enemy, a terrorist lying beaten on the road, knowing you didn’t have a hand in the suffering? The smart advice would be to ride on by.
There’s the common sense answer and the gospel of Jesus answer. There’s the world’s expectation of how we should appropriately treat other people – and the way that Jesus and Jesus’ disciples responded.
But kindness as we know it was all set up by the example of Jesus – and the way God loved us first.
“For God so loved the world…”
Doesn’t our understanding of kindness start there? I think it does. If we are going to be kind, then it must be because we recognize the kindness God showed us …
… while we were yet sinners…
…when we certainly didn’t deserve it…
…when we didn’t know which way was up…
If we’re going to be kind, we need to be able to recognize that we didn’t get here on our own. Isaac Newton said it this way: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Kindness makes us realize that we aren’t here on our own and that we can’t claim to have accomplished where we are on our own.
We needed help, somewhere along the way.
Someone picked us up. Someone dusted us off.
My fellow pastor, Tom, shared: “In my creatively mischievous days, we ‘rearranged’ the letters on a schools bulletin board and got caught. The person who caught us allowed us to ‘fix’ it and [somewhat] restore the board. We could have been burned to the ground. I’ve modeled my ‘authority’ after that incident and the merciful understanding of a wise adult.”
Another friend, Ruth, told me the story of the day her son died. “The morning my son died and I was literally falling apart two women from one of my churches came. One literally held me together. The other brought sausage biscuits & coffee and urged me to eat even as the tears flowed. Another lady came and set with me for at least an hour and held my hand the whole time. Even though I was in a deep fog I will never forget these wonderful kindnesses.”
Dawn wrote to me about how people responded when their house caught on fire. “When our house was hit by lightning and destroyed by fire, neighbors and friends helped us get through those first awful days, with clothes, dishes, furniture, and digging through debris looking for whatever might be salvageable. I will never forget the church couple who, having seen smoke coming from the direction of our house, came by to check on us, got our sizes, and came back a little later with new underwear, socks, shoes, toothbrushes and paste, and deodorant—-the essentials to be able to start the next day.”
We know kindness when we receive it. It’s obvious because we don’t necessarily deserve or expect it, but it finds us.
And then, when we pay kindness forward, we show our way of recognizing God’s prevenient, prevailing, prior grace on our parts- and the kindness that others have shown us – and paying it forward.
Kindness is the way that we participate in the circle of life that God sets – surprisingly, powerfully in opposition to the way that others might expect. Kindness is our way of saying, we might not have it all or even know which way is up, but we can do this, we can make a difference, we can own this moment.
Like school bus driver Jorge Munoz who goes home every night and cooks dinner for hundreds of homeless people on his home stove and spends the evening handing out food before driving the bus again.
Like the Central Washington softball players who carried their injured opponent around the bases, sacrificing their opportunity to win the game – and go to the playoffs – in a moment of sportsmanship.
Like Julio Diaz, who invited his mugger to dinner, shared his life story, and changed the trajectory of another man’s life by loving him where he was.
Like the Indonesian woman whose purse was stolen, who watched the young boy who’d stolen it be stopped and surrounded by an angry mob. While they were intent on beating him as punishment, she begged for his safety, listened to his story, and actually handed over some of her own money to help him out.
Because kindness isn’t weakness. Kindness isn’t a fault. Kindness is the glory of God breaking through our lives, showing a glimpse of the kingdom.
Kindness is when I recognize that I am not alone, that God is with me, that hope still wins.
I don’t know what kindnesses have been brought to your mind.
I remember the time that $200 showed up anonymously, when I shared a prayer request about needing $200 by the end of the day to stay in seminary.
I remember the time a coworker loaned me her car when I was young, employed, and suddenly car-less.
I remember the time I was offered a job that I didn’t quite qualify for because someone knew I needed a job.
I remember the times I’ve been taken back with open arms by people I’ve hurt, who forgave me anyway.
I remember that I am broken, sinful and selfish on my own, and God loves me anyway.
Kindess is recognizing that the best is yet to come and we want to be part of it.
A sign of what’s to come. And we get to participate.