Brad was a young man just out of college, looking for work. He lived in a dumpy little apartment in a bad part of town, but he did not plan to be there very long. As soon as he found a good job and had some money, he’d be out of there. He was talented, his prospects were very good, and he knew that he would only go up from there. In the apartment next door to Brad lived Frank, a guy not much older than Brad. But while Brad was on his way up in life, Frank was on his way down. A variety of health problems had prevented Frank from getting good, steady work, and the jobs he did get hardly paid for his rent and food. Getting a car was out of the question, and that made it even more difficult to get a good job. And his health was getting worse, not better. Frank did not have much to look forward to. It looked like he would be stuck in that dumpy apartment forever.
One day Brad saw Frank pull up in a brand new car. When he got out, Frank told Brad he was moving out. He had a brand new house on a lake out in the suburbs waiting for him. He was back to load up a few things, and the rest of the junk would go into the dumpster. His new place was fully furnished.
“What happened?” asked Brad. “Last month you had to borrow money from me to pay the rent, and all of a sudden you are living like a millionaire. Did you win the lottery?”
“No,” said Frank, “I could never afford lottery tickets.”
“How can you afford this?,” asked an astonished Brad.
“I can’t,” Frank said, “but my brother is doing all this for me.”
“Your brother?” said Brad, “I didn’t even know you had a brother.”
“I hadn’t seen him for a long time,” Frank said. “He’s much older than I am, so we were never close, and we lost touch after our parents died. But just last week, out of the blue, he called me. When he found out about my troubles, he said he wanted to help. I guess he made big money in some computer business, and he can afford to do all this for me. I can hardly believe my good fortune.”
“Wow,” said Brad, “I wish I …..”
I wish I what? How do you think Brad finished that sentence? What did he wish for? What would you be wishing for in that situation? Most people would probably answer that in the same way I answered it when I first read this story and was imagining how it would go. The obvious answer is “I wish I HAD A BROTHER LIKE THAT.” What a brother! Wouldn’t it be great to have a brother like that who would be able to give you whatever you’d ever need or want?
But that isn’t what Brad said in this true story. What he said was, “I wish I COULD BE a brother like that.” And he did not mean that in the sense of being rich like the brother and having all that money to spend on himself. He meant it in the sense of I wish I would be able to help someone out like that.
That reply reflects a completely different approach. His first thought was not how such an arrangement might benefit himself: “If I could only have such a brother.” His first thought is what he might do for someone else, if only wishes could come true. You see, Brad also had a brother who was in need, and Brad felt bad that he could not help him, being barely able to take care of himself at the time. He was hoping that he would be able to help him someday.
Who do you identify with in the story? Perhaps you feel like Frank at the beginning of the story– down and out and going nowhere, barely surviving, and needing a helping hand. Or maybe you feel like Brad, only able to take care of yourself right now, but hoping someday to be doing better, and then willing to be generous with what you have. Or, perhaps you are like Frank’s brother who hit it big and could now afford to be very generous?
Actually, if you look at the big picture, most of us are, most of all, like Frank’s wealthy brother. When Brad saw Frank pull up with the new car, Brad asked him if he had won the lottery. But think about it. Just by being born in this country we are all, already, the winners in life’s lottery. I once heard that even if you are living at the United States government designated poverty level, you are still living better than 89% of the rest of the people in the world. By living in this country and in this century, we enjoy comforts and conveniences that not even kings and presidents enjoyed less than a hundred years ago. We are like Frank’s older brother. That is who most of us are in the story.
Everything we are and have is from God. Most of us have been so richly blessed that we can afford to be generous. Will you use what the Lord has given you in such a way that you will one day hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”?
Matthew 25:21 — (Jesus said), ““His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Luke 3:10-11 — “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
I Peter 4:10 — Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own. Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship (91)