PLACING OTHERS FIRST
One of the amazing images arising from the 2005 London bombing, which killed 52 people and caused severe injuries to many hundred of people, was the courage, dignity, and humility showed by people on that day, placing other people’s needs and safety before their own. ‘Placing others first’ was the recurring phrase in testimonies of many witnesses to that tragic event at the inquest of 7/7 atrocities. I have my own recollections of this tragedy: on the day of the bombing, I couldn’t drive home in the evening from the hospital because of the road closures and transport restrictions. London was at a standstill, I walked 11 miles to my home, but I experienced extraordinary kindness from all sorts of strangers that I met on the way. On reflection, it was not the wisest thing to do for an ethnic minority person with a beard to walk through London on that day. But I felt all along that I was not alone. We often feel that we have known God best or feel closest to him at times of our deepest need. People went out of their way to be extremely kind. It was not the same London that I knew from the early sixties or since that day. On that treacherous day, people showed extraordinary altruism. In spite of the violence, injuries and deaths there was an extra ordinary sense of human courage, dignity and peace because everyone put others first. I never ever wanted to experience the tragedies of that day; my heart goes out for the unfortunate and innocent victims of that incident.
This is exactly the attitude St. Paul expresses in Philippians Chapter 2: 3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.” This is the attitude we are expected to develop being a part of the Christian community. If Christ’s love has made any difference to our lives then we are not expected to push our way to the front of the queue, we should allow others to get ahead. We should not be obsessed with taking advantage of others; instead we should place others first and give them a helping hand.
Many people struggle to make an indelible impression on others or to become popular; but selfish ambition or vanity brings discord. Paul therefore, stressed for spiritual unity, asking the Philippians to love one another and to be one in spirit and purpose. When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ's example of putting others first and we experience unity in our parishes. Selfish ambition can ruin a parish, but genuine humility can build it. Being humble involves having a true perspective about ourselves (See Romans 12:3). It does not mean that we should put ourselves down. Before God, we are sinners, saved only by God's unforgettable and amazing grace. We are to lay aside selfishness and treat others with respect and common courtesy.
Considering others' interests are more important than anything else that we could ever do. We should think the way Jesus thought of himself, he set aside the privileges and took on the status of a slave. He lived a selfless obedient life and died a selfless, obedient death for saving us from our wretched human situation. (Phil2: 6-8). Jesus Christ was humble, he gave up his rights and his power in order to obey his Father and serve people. Like Christ, we should have a servant's attitude, serving out of love for God and for others, not out of guilt or fear. Remember, we can choose our attitude. We can approach life expecting to be served; or you can look for opportunity to serve others.
We see an interesting story in Matthew’s gospel about an ambitious mother; she was ambitious for her two sons as any mother would be. John and James’ mother asked Jesus for a favour: “Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). She wanted power, influence and success for her two sons; she wanted her sons to be Jesus’ right-and left-hand men in the new political order of her dreams. But Jesus taught them the importance of being a servant instead of a master, about seeking last place instead of the first, about giving up their life instead of governing others. Hence we read: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant , and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (St. Mathew 20: 26-28).
Paul also encourages us to guard against selfishness, prejudice, or jealousy that might lead to dissention; showing genuine interest in others is a positive step toward in maintaining unity among believers. The makeup and demography of the Paul’s missionary churches reflected great diversity, with people from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. Acts 16 gives us some indication of the diverse makeup of this church. With so many different backgrounds among the members, unity must have been difficult to maintain. We face the same situation in our churches and parishes; it is godless people who throw their weight around and when they get little power; it quickly changes them to become agents of division and discord. Therefore, putting other people first is way for creating unity and concord, peace and harmony. The greatest testimony that we can possibly offer is not quoting bible verses or providing some cutting edge proof for virgin birth or resurrection, it is placing others first; it is loving others as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christmas story is all about this fundamental need of putting other people first.
We meet two kinds of people in the Christmas story: the first category of people includes: Mary, Joseph, shepherds and magi who put others first. Mary’s response was indeed the most fitting example of this attitude; she simply said to the angel Gabriel, “May it be as you have said.” Then there were others, such as the inn keeper and Herod, who cared only about their own vested interests, comforts, power and security. We ourselves have the habit of making time for others at Christmas through entertaining, providing hospitality, and buying presents. Would it be possible to extend this attitude of putting others first beyond the Christmas day celebrations? Let the coming Christmas be a time for thanking God with our hearts and minds for sending His son to this broken world so that we might become children of God and rediscover the unconditional love of God for healing this fractured world. I wish you all such an attitude of mind at the forthcoming Christmas and the New Year.
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