“Pay it forward”. We’ve all heard that phrase urging us to show our thanksgiving for some kind act done to us by doing something nice for someone else, especially someone who is in need in one way or another. To the best of my knowledge this concept was first articulated by the author Catherine Ryan Hyde in her 1999 book of the same name. It soon caught on and today there is a Pay it Forward Day on April 26th each year, a Pay it Forward Foundation and even a movie with that title that came out in 2000 starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. None of us can take exception to the concept. It is probably the best a secular world can do to express the need to reach out to our neighbor and take care of one another. But the concept is far from new. And in its original form it was completely religious in nature. In the Gospels many centuries before pay it forward had been conceived, Jesus said, “the gift you have received, give as a gift.” (Mt. 10:8) He was specifically referring to mercy and forgiveness, but it is easy to see that by extension he was including all the gifts that come to us from God. And since, in one way or another, everything is a gift, what we then need to give to others as gifts includes most everything. Living in a society where we are taught that we must work hard, use our talents, and earn what we get, the giftedness of life is easy to forget. It is true that God does intend us to work and that everything will not just fall into our laps without effort. And there are certainly people who misuse the welfare system and many abuses that need to be corrected. But let us not forget all the good that we receive from God and not forget that we are commanded to be generous to others in return. Christ is the first one who, in his own way, instructed us to “Pay it forward”.
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