Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
July 13, 2011

Christian Lopez and the IRS
Have you heard the story of Christian Lopez? The New York Yankees fan caught Derek Jeter’s homerun ball last Saturday. What makes this feat so unusual? It was Jeter’s 3,000th career hit, making him the first Yankee and only the 28th player in baseball history to reach this milestone. For it to be a homerun in Yankees Stadium is the stuff of movies. For the fan who caught the ball to return it to Jeter makes the story even more legendary.

Now for the bad news. Lopez could have sold the ball to the highest bidder, probably receiving a payday as high as $250,000. When he returned it to Jeter instead, he was rewarded with luxury box seats for the rest of the season, along with signed baseballs, bats and jerseys from Jeter as well. But the Internal Revenue Service will likely view these gratuities as income. If so, he could owe as much as $14,000 in taxes. Since Lopez still owes more than $100,000 in student loans, this is not welcome information.

The fan’s attitude is exemplary. Responding to the bad news, Lopez said, “Worse comes to worse, I’ll have to pay the taxes. . . . The IRS has a job to do, so I’m not going to hold it against them, but it would be cool if they helped me out on this.” Indeed it would.

Claire Booth Luce was the first to complain that “no good deed goes unpunished,” but she’s not the last. The issue of unrequited benevolence is more than a news item—it goes to the essence of character. Dwight Moody claimed, “What you are in the dark, that you are and no more.” Bill Hybels agreed that character is defined by what you do when no one is looking.

Jesus’ question seems ironically appropriate this morning: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:46). His counsel: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (vs. 43-45).

Let’s explore the logic of his command. When someone persecutes you, what options could you choose in response? You could return injury for injury, perpetuating the cycle of vengeance and pain. You could ignore this injustice, which won’t make things worse but may not make them better. Or you could return kindness for evil, offering your enemy an opportunity to become your friend. Which makes the most sense?

Mark Twain observed, “We do no benevolences whose first benefit is not for ourselves.” In a society that measures success by popularity and possessions, it is subversively counter-cultural to do the right thing for the right reason, whatever the cost. What benevolent deed could you do today which would likely be rewarded by no one but God?

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