Paying It Forward (and Backward)

  • June 9, 2012 | Deuteronomy 24:21–22

The movie Pay It Forward introduced the innovative idea of a boy named Trevor McKinney. When Trevor’s social studies teacher assigned students to conjure up something to change the world and put it into action, Trevor turned around "paying a favor back" to "paying a favor forward." Trevor’s efforts ended up transforming the lives of those around him. The movie is based on the premise that, more often than not, unless we purpose to live differently, our behaviors are often self-serving. It takes thought and intentionality and effort to love others the way we love ourselves. This is exactly the way God has invited us to live.

When God’s people, delivered out of bondage in Egypt, were still sojourning in the wilderness, God gave them an extensive set of laws so that they would know what it was to live in freedom. Anticipating natural human resistance, God preempted the expected stubbornness by adding an explanation to many of them. Command after command detailed in Deuteronomy concludes, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this" (see v. 22). These commandments ranged from everything from how to harvest one’s fields, as in our reading today, to whom to invite to your house for a festival celebration. Specifically, God was asking His people to remember and include foreigners and orphans and widows.

Looking backward, God was asking His people to pay it forward. Yes, caring for these ones who God loves was kind of like "payback" for God’s mighty Red Sea deliverance out of slavery. It was also the new social pattern, by which the world would be blessed, that God was establishing through Israel.

Apply the Word

Perhaps you will never glean a field or celebrate a Jewish feast day. But when you "harvest" your paycheck, do you remember those who are hungry? When you offer hospitality, do you remember those who get few invitations? Providing for the bodies of the hungry, and sharing our homes with the poor, are ways that we honor God.

BY Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck is a writer and speaker who cares deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in the sneakers, pumps or Doc Martens in which we find ourselves. She is passionate about communicating God's great love for the world--inextricably bound to God's love for individuals--in print and in speech.

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