Good Ideas

Two weeks ago, while I was in Houston, I was waiting for some friends outside a coffee shop. Across the street I could see a homeless man sitting under a tree in the lawn outside a retail shop. It was raining. As plain as such a thing can be, I felt the urge to go talk to the man. I don’t know what I should have said, and “street evangelism” is not a habit of mine, but I could really sense God would like me to go talk to the man about himself and then about Jesus. It wasn’t really a command I was feeling; as far as I could tell, it was an idea of my own devising, although I would not deny the Holy Spirit’s nudging. But it was, basically, a good idea.
I didn’t do it. And ever since I have wondered if God has been withholding some of Himself from me because of the part of Himself I refused to share with a stranger in need. It’s not the first time in my life I have had a good idea and let it pass unrealized. And these aren’t just good ideas – these are ideas that are good, if you catch my meaning.

I came across this great parable from The Shepherd of Hermas in my readings of the Apostolic Fathers a while back:
"Hear the parable which I shall tell thee relating to fasting.
A certain man had an estate, and many slaves, and a portion of his estate he planted as a vineyard; and choosing out a certain slave who was trusty and well-pleasing (and) held in honor, he called him to him and saith unto him; "Take this vineyard [which I have planted], and fence it [till I come], but do nothing else to the vineyard. Now keep this my commandment, and thou shalt be free in my house." Then the master of the servant went away to travel abroad.

When then he had gone away, the servant took and fenced the vineyard; and having finished the fencing of the vineyard, he noticed that the vineyard was full of weeds. So he reasoned within himself, saying, "This command of my lord I have carried out, [but] I will next dig this vineyard, and it shall be neater when it is digged; and when it hath no weeds it will yield more fruit, because not choked by the weeds." He took and digged the vineyard, and all the weeds that were in the vineyard he plucked up. And that vineyard became very neat and flourishing, when it had no weeds to choke it.

After a time the master of the servant [and of the estate] came, and he went into the vineyard. And seeing the vineyard fenced neatly, and digged as well, and [all] the weeds plucked up, and the vines flourishing, he rejoiced [exceedingly] at what his servant had done.

So he called his beloved son, who was his heir, and the friends who were his advisers, and told them what he had commanded his servant, and how much he had found done. And they rejoiced with the servant at the testimony which his master had borne to him. And he saith to them; "I promised this servant his freedom, if he should keep the commandment which I commanded him; but he kept my commandment and did a good work besides to my vineyard, and pleased me greatly. For this work therefore which he has done, I desire to make him joint-heir with my son, because, when the good thought struck him, he did not neglect it, but fulfilled it."

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
-- James 4:17 (NRSV)