Several weeks ago, Arielle and I drove home to a freshly mowed front lawn. I hadn’t mowed. Neither had she. Our toddler obviously hasn’t been tasked with that quite yet. We also hadn’t paid or asked anyone else to do it. It was a mystery; a good deed done to us in secret, Sermon-on-the-Mount-style. A week or so went by. The rains came down and the grass came up. About a day before I had set aside time to mow, I came home and pulled up to our curb to see someone pushing a lawnmower through our front yard. It was our nearby neighbor Jack, who already spends the majority of his time mowing the two acres of contiguous vacant lots across the street from our house. For mental imagery, picture Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” except grow the beard a bit longer and trade the cowboy hat for a camouflage bandana. That’s Jack.
When I got out of the car, he stopped the mower engine with a guilty smirk on his face. “What are you doing, Jack?” I asked with a smile. He took the cigarette out of his mouth. “Just thought I’d do you a favor.” “You did this about a week ago, too, didn’t you?” He tried to play innocent, but it didn’t last long. “Oh, well, I saw somebody out here. That wasn’t you?...Ok, yeah, that was me.”
I expressed my gratitude and let him know that I didn’t have any cash to pay him. Later we would settle on a payment of soup instead. We chatted a bit and he asked about the lots next door where we’ve had a garden the last four or five years. In this winter’s wind, several trees had blown over and were lying where they fell close to the garden. I casually mentioned that I intended to find someone with a chainsaw to help me carve up the fallen trees and haul them off.
Fast forward a day or two. I heard a strange noise through my bedroom window. I peeked out to see Jack, with a reciprocating saw, lopping off the branches of the fallen trees. I was blown away. Over the course of two days, he cut all the fallen wood and stacked it neatly in the alley. And then he proceeded to deconstruct a pile of rotten fence panels, trash a mound of decomposing veggie plants, and push-mow the entire third-acre lot. We fed him dinner one more time, but at that point, there was simply no way we could repay him for all the work he had put in.
Now let me be clear: this is not a neighbor who we are especially close to, or even had many interactions with. We just wave when we see him mowing across the street. Finally, I asked him straight out, “Jack, why? Why are you doing all this?” All he said was, “Just doing you a favor.” He answer was unsatisfactory. Does he see that Arielle and I both work and raise a toddler and, therefore, don't get out to mow as often as we should? Has he taken ownership in the neighborhood to such a degree that he wants to beautify the garden lot? Was there some unmemorable act of ours that he is expressing gratitude for? Maybe he just likes us? Maybe he just likes mowing? I don’t know.
Much of the Christian world, even the nominally Christian world, has just celebrated Easter. For many, this time is a celebration of the gift of unmerited favor of God on humankind. Depending on your theology in regards to the Cross and Resurrection, you may see this gift as the satisfaction of God's justice, his conquering of death, or a ransom paid for us. Maybe Christ provided direct access to God, the ultimate example of self-sacrificial love, or some combination of all of these. Whatever it is, God has given us something that we could not get or do on our own.
This year, I got to see a small glimpse of that unmerited gift in the actions of my neighbor. Thank you, Jack, for being Christ to me. I hope I can be Christ to you.