Fifty-Dollar Bill sounds like the name of a gambling cowboy, doesn’t it? Or perhaps a gamboling cowboy? Here comes our gamboling cowpoke, jumping and skipping down the trail. For years a Jesuit friend and I made up stories about a cowboy we called Ubiquitous Bill: “Cain’t shoot, cain’t rope, cain’t ride, but he’s ever’where!” I’m pretty sure that Fifty-Dollar Bill and Ubiquitous Bill were saddlemates.
Time to serious up, and here’s the thing: After last Saturday’s anticipatory Mass a parishioner very generously handed me a crisp 50-dollar bill (on which may be found Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President, born Hiram Ulysses Grant, name mistakenly recorded as Ulysses S. Grant at the time of his admission to West Point)(My grandfather referred to Federal Reserve Notes by their pictured presidents, as in “If you’ll wax the VW there’s a Hamilton in it for you. Or maybe two Abe Lincolns.”), saying that he’d found the bill earlier in the week and thought I should have it. I thanked him, wondering what I’d do with such a tidy sum. Blow it on Milk Duds?Add it to the offertory? Put it in the poor box? It came to me that I ought to hang on to it for a day or so and see what happened. In any case, it had been awhile since I’d seen a fifty-dollar bill.
The next morningTHE NEXT MORNING, early, I answered the door to find a woman on the front porch, in distress and on the edge of tears. After very politely introducing herself she said that she and her children were living in a hotel and that she’d gotten herself messed up with the 4th of July holiday. (If you must live from hand to mouth an unpaid holiday may not be a blessing and in fact may put you in arrears.) Now she was short on the rent and was afraid that she and her children would be put out. The difference between what she had and what she needed? FIFTY DOLLARS, exactly. Bam. I told her I had just the thing for her. Done and done, and praise God.
Why share this story? I hope it’s obvious: It shows God at work in the world. Now, if you were a prone to grumpiness and suspicion you could dismiss it all as coincidence, expect that it wasn’t coincidence. I’m quite sure of that. Pardners, this is not my first rodeo. People come to the door asking for money all the time. We do our best to help, but we almost never give out cash. For one thing, we don’t have cash to give. For another, I’ve heard every story and every version of every story. Buddhists talk about “idiot compassion.” I work at avoiding idiot compassion, knowing full well that Jesus asks us to err on the side of compassion.
Now I feel like a cynic, so let’s back off a bit and take stock of things. BTW, whether or not we’re able to give to those who ask (Luke 6:30 “Give to everyone who asks….”), we’re never permitted to overlook the humanity of the person asking. No one begs on the street because they want to. Just saying.
Perhaps it seems a small thing, but my fifty-dollar experience was a welcome spiritual shot in the arm. And in this one experience was an entire structure of belief. I was especially grateful to have been allowed to serve as an instrument of grace. It was marvelous to see things fit together in an entire series of grace-filled events. I’ll tell you what: Because of grace, that fifty-dollar bill did a whole lot of good.
Much of the time God’s work remains hidden. At other times the veil is parted and we see the deeper reality behind the world’s appearances. Always this is God’s world and we’re blessed to be part of it.
God is always and everywhere present to every aspect of creation. And you are Beloved, always and everywhere. Please don’t fergit that. Pardner.
Fifty-Dollar Bill says, “Howdy!” Ubiquitous Bill says, “See ya’ ‘round!”