"He was certainly good to you, wasn't he?" one of the mourners remarked to the elderly woman as they walked away from the open grave.
The old woman's son, who had grown rich through his associations with the underworld, had indeed been generous to his mother. Once poverty-stricken, she lived comfortably now in the $200,000 house he had bought her.
"I always wanted to give you the things you never had, ma," he would say. It was his way of thanking her for being such a good mother.
As she stepped into the black limousine that was waiting to take her home, she made a quiet answer to the woman who had been speaking to her.
"The only thanks I wanted was for him to be a good man," she said.
But like many another son or daughter, he had misjudged what would have made his mother the happiest. She had given him a home in which decency and honor prevailed. Nothing would have pleased her more than for him to have accepted that gift of hers. He chose to reject it and to show his thanks in another way.
I figure God is like the mother in this story. He doesn't care for our worldly achievements or worldly glory. His favorite verse in the Bible, I like to imagine, is Paul's admonition to the Philippians:
"Whatsoever things are true... honest ... just ... pure ... lovely and of good report if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things."
"Exactly what I would have told them," I can picture God saying as he reads his Bible in heaven.
We often mistake the kind of things that please God and the kind of things he wants from us.
"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?" the psalmist asks.
To get Jesus' answer to that question, we can meditate on some lines from the Lord's prayer:
(Thy kingdom come) Help me to be quick to see, and ready to encourage, whatever brings the better meaning of God into that which otherwise might be the common round of the uninspired day.
(Thy will be done) Help me to realize that there is a higher will than mine and that my life will never be what I want it to be, and what it can be, until I bring myself to say, "Not my will but thine be done."
(Give us this day our daily bread) Open the way for me to earn an honest living without anxiety but help me never to seek to have and to own more than is needful so that I may never use my gifts as a means of power over others.
(Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us) Make us sympathetic and patient with the shortcomings of others, especially of those we love, and keep us sternly watchful only of our own sins.
(And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil) Let me not go carelessly this day within the reach of any evil which may capture and conquer me, but if in the path of duty I must go where temptation is, then give me thy strength so that I may meet it without fear.
If you are looking for a way to thank God "for all his benefits," saying "Thank you, God," is one way. It is the usual way.
A better way is to look and see what it is that God asks of us to show our thanks by "thinking on these things." (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)