BBC radio broadcast a programme called “Witness”. I came across it only recently – and love it. Eye-witness accounts are used to illuminate significant historic events. The first one I listened to was that of a British soldier captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942. His name is Maurice Naylor. The whole story is captivating, but one incident stood out to me.
His health was failing due to malnutrition and the many tropical diseases from which he suffered. His best friend appeared one day with three eggs – an unimaginable luxury in the prison camp. He gave them to Maurice to help him recover, and left – never to be seen again. What an impressive sacrifice. The eggs that saved Maurice might have saved his friend if he had kept them to himself.
Why did this story grab my attention? Because my wife’s grandfather suffered a very similar fate as a Japanese prisoner of war for several years. I think about his experiences often, though he died before I knew his granddaughter. Two things stand out for me.
- Compassion is Clearest When the Day is Darkest. Three eggs would be nothing to me today, but they were everything to Maurice. Sacrifices carry specially profound meaning when they are voluntary. It is when giving is hard that it carries weight. A person in pain serving another in greater pain illuminates the world. Think of Jesus on the cross. He did not deserve to be there. His friends abandoned him. He was flogged and crucified. But what does he do when a cry for help reaches his ears? The robber says,“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42–43 NIV11-GK). Perhaps those of us who pray to be ‘more like Jesus’ need to recognise that this might well be when we are in need, but someone near us is in even greater need. When I serve a person despite my own pain God’s compassion is all the clearer for them to see.
- Small Things Matter. I am attracted to the idea of doing big, grandiose, impressive deeds. My brain tells me that the bigger the act the more God will be pleased. But Jesus sees things differently. He is impressed with the size of the heart, not the size of the gift. Or more properly, he is impressed with the size of the faith. “He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:2–4 NIV11-GK). The widow gave everything. Maurice’s friend did likewise. I am too quick to congratulate myself when I make a sacrifice for someone. But was it significant? Did it hurt? Was it hard? Did I hesitate before making it? If not – was it really a sacrifice at all?