|This picture actually has to do with the story and it not merely gratuitous. Read on!|
This is a true story told to my actress and me by one of our friends on the road last week. I have changed the names to protect the innocent, and also because I don't remember the actual names, anyway.
Larry was married to Ruth, and one day Larry found out that he needed a new kidney or he'd die. Ruth prevailed upon her brother Steve, who agreed to donate one of his good kidneys to Larry.
Larry received his brother-in-law's good kidney, and it saved his life.
But Larry started having an affair with the recovery room nurse from the hospital where he received his transplant. Within two weeks, Larry moved out and dumped his wife, whose brother had just saved his life.
The brother-in-law and the wife sued Larry, claiming that there was an implied contract involved, and that the implication at a minimum was that Larry would be faithful to his wife and stay with her - since, after all, without the wife's efforts and the brother-in-law's kidney, Larry would simply be dead.
Larry argued that it's not legal in this country to sell body parts, and that Steve's kidney was donated as a gift, and that therefore there was no contract, implied or express - for it would have been a violation of law had there been.
And I thought, there's a deep lesson in theology behind this.
Love is always a grace. All God's gifts to as are gratuitous, unearned, unmerited. We are saved by grace thorough faith, which works through love. The heart of our existence and of our salvation is grace - a free gift. That's the origin of it and that's the core of it.
Technically, then, there is no implied contract - for the nature of a gift requires no payment and exacts no reciprocation; and grace is always given freely; otherwise it's not grace, but a barter, a contract, a transaction. And grace (like love) transcends all of that.
And yet any normal human being is revolted by Larry and by what he did. We know that, while he's right technically and from a legal standpoint, he is utterly wrong morally. He's right, but he ain't good.
For there is a reciprocation to grace that is fitting. It's called gratitude, saying "thank you" to God and to our neighbors. This is done through wonder, prayer, upright moral living, even suffering and sacrifice. It's not done by running off with the nurse you met in the recovery room (even if she looks like the gal in the picture above). It's not done by sticking with your own narrow sins and constricted agendas, despite what God has given you. It's not done by shutting yourself off from God's grace and from the response it doesn't demand from you, but that it ought to elicit from you all the same.
And if any of you are like me or my actors, who tend to love unwisely, and who tend to give and give and give without getting anything back, realize that reciprocity is at the heart of our response to God and to our response to others and their response to us. Love is not a business transaction, but it only bears fruit if it involves a give and take - given and taken out of sheer grateful delight.
In brief, the response to a good kidney is to be a good liver.