We are probably all familiar with the climactic scene in Schindler’s List, where Oskar Schindler is presented with a letter and ring by the 1100 Jews he helped save. He is deeply ashamed and begins to weep. He could have done so much more. In heart-wrenching desperation, he considers his gold pin, and the life it represents, and breaks down, “I could have got one more person and I didn’t. I didn’t…”
This scene resonates with us because people matter. We have been created to be our brother’s keeper. We have been commanded to love each other as Jesus loved us.
Paul has a similar climactic scene with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. His words also serve to help re-calibrating our focus. Our life’s work was not meant to end in the pursuit of things like cars and gold trinkets.
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:32-37
Paul starts this last conversation with his friends mentioning inheritance. This means something to me. A while ago, I attended two funerals in the same week. Both of the men were pillars in the community. One had tirelessly sacrificed in the school system. The stadium was named after him. Another worked as a funeral director. After he died, his family found a drawer filled with thank you notes from the many families he had generously helped at personal cost. Both of these men had stayed in their communities and impacted generations with their lives. That is not an overstatement. Literally, generations were impacted by these men.
To be honest, this moved me because I do not have that same legacy. I have never lived in one place longer than 8 years (even as a child). I can relate to Paul’s desire to have an inheritance–something that shows for his years of labor. As an itinerant minister, it wasn’t obvious. Ultimately, we all must commit those we love and work with to God.
I am challenged by these great men. They are examples that the goal of work is not our own consumption, but to help those around us.
Maybe I’m in a melancholy mood. One more story.
When I ran track in High School, I remember one meet where the overall competition had been decided, but the 2 mile relay remained. The coaches collaborated and allowed some of us to compete who wouldn’t normally get the chance. I was to anchor. When I received the baton, I was behind by over 110 yards (showing my age for sure–not meters!). Although I closed the gap, I did not catch the runner. I’ve thought about that race many times. Should I have started faster? Did I wait too long for my final kick? Looking back, I was afraid that if I started too fast, I wouldn’t have enough energy to finish. I finished the race with some reserves still in the tank. If I would have run harder, I may not have been able to win, but at least I would have given my all.
Surely, that must be the greatest regret: I did not give my all. I held something back.
One day we will say good bye. Oskar Schindler did. Paul did. Even these two men I mentioned.
Focusing on that truth will remind us to spend our lives for others.
The cost is great, but the cost of failure is greater.
- Obituary for Leon Leyson, Youngest Survivor on Schindler’s List (readingbyeugene.com)
- Giving to the Extreme (projectwhitespace.com)