There once was a 15-year-old boy who was trapped all night on a ledge 500 feet down the side of a mountain in Arizona. The next day a deputy sheriff of the county rescued the boy. In climbing back up the rope toward safety, the deputy’s safety equipment somehow failed and he fell to his death 1,000 feet below.
After reading about the rescue and the tragic death, I wondered what the thoughts of that 15 yr. old must have been. One thing I am sure he must have thought about was how much he owed to the man who, in rescuing him, had lost his own life. I hope none of us are ever in such a precarious situation. But there is a very real sense in which we all owe our lives to other people. Some things have occurred to me as I have thought of that story.
First, each of us owes a great debt in life. We owe a debt to our parents, those who brought us into the world and the parents or guardians who raised us. We owe our heritage to the generations who went before us. We owe a debt not only for our physical existence, but for the environment they provided for us – food, clothing, shelter and beyond these, the interest they took in us and the care they gave us – the love and protection that stood guard over us. We owe more than we can say.
This debt doesn’t end with family. We also owe to the community and society at large. We complain about the evils of society, but we need to think about the cultural heritage we have that has made us civilized people rather than illiterate cave people. Imagine if we had to rediscover fire or reinvent the wheel, or the transportation or communication we rely on. Most of us had little to do with the building of the neighborhoods we live in, our church, our school, or with the heritage of art, religion, government and all that make up our culture.
We owe a debt to our family and to society at large. We also owe another debt. St. Paul reminds us of it in Romans 5: 6-8. “When we were unable to help ourselves, at the moment of our need, Christ died for us, although we were living against God. Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die. But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” In another letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.”
There’s a story about how, after President Abraham Lincoln was killed, his body lay in state in Washington. Long lines of people filed by to pay their respects to the president. One of those in line was an African-American woman who had brought her young grandchild. After much waiting they stood before the casket. Reaching down, the woman picked up her little grandson and, holding him up to view the body of the President, said, “Take a long look, sonny. He died for you.” She was reminding him that he owed a debt. St. Paul said likewise, “Take a long look… You were bought with a price.”
Because we owe such a great debt, we have a responsibility. I don’t know what the 15-year-old did who was rescued from the ledge. I do know that he had a responsibility to live the best life he could because someone else had sacrificed for him.
That’s something for our recent graduates to think about. How to live the best life they can. How to go about carrying out God’s work as they do their life’s work. It’s something for all of us to be pondering, for we were all bought with a price.