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Pay it back vs. pay it forward

We are often conscious of feeling obliged to pay something back.  We have been taught from early on that if someone gives you a gift you are supposed to give them one back.

Of course, the idea of an obligation to give something back seems to void the very notion behind a gift that is freely given. It seems we do not like to be in anyone’s debt. The gift becomes the fulfillment of a contract.

Enter pay it forward. In the film of that name a teacher challenges students to do something that will change the world. One of the students, Trevor, comes up with the idea that he will do a good deed for three people. In turn, he will ask these three people to “pay it forward” by doing something nice for three other people. Trevor’s idea is that people will continue to help others after being helped, setting in motion an endless chain reaction.

Jesus teaches us to pay it forward

I often think, isn’t that what Jesus’ mission was all about… teaching us to pay the gift of God’s love forward. After all, God has first loved us and wants us to manifest that gift in our lives! Isn’t this what Jesus did? And it changed and is changing the world!

Jesus taught this “pay it forward” theory in his parables

  • The good Samaritan wasn’t paying anyone back. He was simply giving the gift of his care without asking for anything in return.
  • The parable about the unforgiving servant makes the same point in reverse. The master, in effect, says… I gave you the gift of forgiveness. Why did you not pass it on and forgive another debtor his debts?

Both end with “go and do likewise”!

Jesus modeled “pay it forward’

Of course, the washing of the feet and Jesus dying for us is the ultimate expression of “pay it forward”. Do this in memory of me! Wash one another’s feet. Lay down your life for your sisters and brothers.

Pope Francis’  Pay It  Forward Plan for Peace

Echoing much of his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, in his Message for the 2021 World Day of Peace he writes…

I have chosen as the title of this year’s Message, A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace. A culture of care as a way to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time. There can be no peace without a culture of care.

The culture of care thus calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance. As such, it represents a privileged path to peace.

At a time like this, when the barque of humanity, tossed by the storm of the current crisis, struggles to advance towards a calmer and more serene horizon, the “rudder” of human dignity and the “compass” of fundamental social principles can enable us together to steer a sure course.

In this message, he then describes the many ways we can imitate Jesus and pay it forward.

I read his message as a call for us to pay forward the unmerited gift of love Jesus taught and lived. This is the path to peace!

Paying it forward in our lives

  • Am I conscious of the gift of love I have received from God?
  • How can I pay it forward in my daily life?
  • Can I recognize the times when I have not been the Good Samaritan and cared for the other?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Pay it forward plan for peace.