The Plumber's Tale
01 May 1988
I was worried about the bill myself - not that I would not be able to pay it, but that if he kept on talking the job would take so long that it would prove more expensive than I had bargained for.
By JOHN LESTER
We called in the plumber to attend to a faulty tap. In the course of conversation, he discovered that my wife and I work voluntarily for Moral Re-Armament. He seemed intrigued to know how we managed to pay the bills. I assumed that he was worried about his own bill.
I was worried about it myself - not that I would not be able to pay it, but that if he kept on talking the job would take so long that it would prove more expensive than I had bargained for. I indicated that we lived on a basis of `faith and prayer'. To my surprise, I discovered that this was what he was assuming and that he understood what I meant.
Perhaps he might reduce his bill after all! Instead, he told me a story. `Faith,' he began, `means a lot to me - but my brother has much more of it than I do.'
His brother worked voluntarily for a charity. He therefore had no salary. He and his wife lived very frugally on `what the Lord provided'. They had an old washing machine which they had had for many years, and one day he said to his wife, `It is time we got a new washing machine.'
His wife agreed, but said, `We don't have the money.'
`Not yet,' he said, `but if the Lord wants it, we will soon have it. Let's pray for it.' So they prayed. A few days later, some unexpected cheques came through the post, just enough to buy the washing machine.
`OK,' said the man to his wife, `Let's go ahead and buy it.'
That evening, his wife said to him, `Now we can give our old machine to our elderly neighbour down the road who has no machine at all.'
`Which machine, did you say?' said her husband.
`Why, the old machine, of course.'
`I don't think Jesus would have done that,' her husband replied.
She couldn't sleep. Next morning, she repacked the new machine, took it down the road and made a gift of it to a very moved old lady. Then she returned to do the week's washing in their own worn machine.
She had done what, deep down, she believed was right, but she did not feel particularly happy with her husband. He only said, `If the Lord wants us to have a new machine, we will be given one.'
That day, in the post came a letter from a friend. `I have been thinking,' it began, `about your old washing machine. It is time you had a new one. Furthermore, you need a dryer as well. I have pleasure in enclosing a cheque to cover both.'
This is a story I cannot forget. For it cuts across the values of our present society.
Today, some involved with the political parties of the right recognize that the capitalist system requires the moral values of religion to work properly. Some on the left recognize that they need a motivation which springs from religious commitment to care properly for others. There is a truth in both these views: but it can easily go unrecognized that our present political philosophies, valuable as they are to us, all emphasize the material. It is an easy temptation to try to harness the things of God to the requirements of mammon.
We forget that true religion leads people away from a dependence on material possessions, away from the desire for more.
Too many think that faith in God is a useful lubricant to make society as we know it work better. Too few see it as a total alternative.
A woman from Papua New Guinea was travelling by air. She had come straight from her village in response to an urgent summons. She was wearing the cotton clothes of the tropics and yet moving rapidly towards a European winter.
In transit she met two Canadians travelling in the opposite direction who were complete strangers.
`Where are you going?' they asked.
`In those clothes?'
'I have no others.'
Without another word they opened their suitcases, took out their own winter clothes, and gave them to her.
These two stories have left me with a question: not `Is it right?' but `Do I dare?'
Incidentally, I have often wondered since how many families have called that plumber and ended up with more than they bargained for!