I fly a lot for business. Every once in a while, because I have so many miles, I get a free upgrade to First Class. That happened recently as I was leaving Oregon. Then I overheard a gentleman who had also been upgraded asking the gate agent if there was any way his wife could come up with him. But there were no more seats. I offered to give up mine so he could travel with his wife and enjoy a First Class ride. He looked at me like I was crazy. Who gives up a First Class seat? Even the gate agent said, “Wow. That’s something you don’t see every day.” The incredulous but ever-so-grateful man offered to thank me by buying a drink or some food or whatever I wanted. I told him that all I wanted was for him to pass it on, and do an unexpected act of kindness for someone else.
I don’t tell this story to toot my own horn. Quite to the contrary, it saddens me. Why is a simple gracious act so unusual? Why are people dumbfounded that someone would give up a privilege to benefit someone else? Scripture tells us that God loves a cheerful giver, yet it seems that our society’s goal for human living is to achieve something that puts us above everyone else, and then hang onto that status for dear life. It’s about rank, position, power, and ownership. If you aren’t sufficiently smart enough, strong enough, or just plain lucky enough to secure it for yourself, that’s your problem, not mine.
At the root of this possessiveness is an attitude of scarcity. We are taught that there’s only so much food or money or other resource, and if you get some, that means there’s less for me. Contrast that with an attitude of abundance, which says that even if there is a finite supply, there is enough for everyone. Your gain is not my loss. In fact, your gain is my gain, too. The entire world benefits when more people have what they need.
I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said that whoever loves their life in this world will lose it, but whoever hates their life in this world will gain eternal life. He didn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy our lives, live them to the full, and love with all our hearts. Jesus certainly loved life – so much so that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton! God didn’t create us on this earth to deny our own existence. But he doesn’t want us to cling to the things of this life, and especially not things like status, power, or prestige. In fact, Jesus immediately continued this teaching on life by saying that we need to be servants of all and follow him.
And what does that kind of discipleship look like? Whenever someone needed comfort, healing, care, or kindness, Jesus gave willingly and generously. When others were hungry, he shared his food with them and helped them multiply their food until all were filled. He never turned his back, told people they deserved their state in life, called them demeaning names, or judged them. He always looked for ways that he could personally make it better, and at the same time he called out the authorities and powers of the day for the ways they made it worse. He operated from an attitude of abundance, and was never concerned that if someone else gained something, he was diminished. He never looked at life as a win-lose proposition in which he made sure he was always winning; he looked instead for win-win, where everyone had what they needed and was treated with the dignity that we all deserve. He truly was a servant to all.
We are called to serve, not to cling. We have to speak up, act, and raise the bar in a world where so many people are lowering it. As the prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Avila speaks so well: Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.
What can you do today to live out that call?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.