The world is burning.
In every corner of the world it seems people are killing each other because of the color of their skin or the holy book they read. There are riots and genocides and marches and civil unrest.
And I’m afraid it isn’t going to stop any time soon.
These acts of violence and hate are more than religious wars and the color of people’s skin. They are systemic of a larger, even more evil, problem. Ferguson was the outward symptom of an inward problem. Paris was/is the outward, visible, symptom of the ugly demon hiding inside all of us. While events likes Paris, New York, and Ferguson make the news and become very visible to the entire world, the symptoms are everywhere, all the time. A pandemic of sorts.
We all, in some way, shape, or form, wrestle with self-centeredness. We have made our self the center of our universe. Why not? The world is a dumpster fire. So, we retreat and create a new narrative for ourselves with self as the lead the role.
The once over-arching story of the collective “us” has been destroyed, deconstructed, and left for dead in the ditch on the road down from Jerusalem. The rules have been broken, gender roles misplaced, familial boundaries crossed, and racial lines blurred. Don’t get me wrong, some of this needed to happen.
Racial segregation needed to be deconstructed. Gender roles needed to be rethought and reconsidered through the lens of mutual submission.
However, the problem with the deconstruction of the meta-narrative is that we are left without a place, pushed into the wild blue yonder with no ship. We find ourselves up the proverbial creek with no paddle.
So, we reconstruct our own narrative to make us feel safe again. We cease to look past the 10 ft in front of our noses because, “that is what I can control.” We float the bill for own movie titled, “Self” starring me.
Then we let other people into our narrative who we think fit the mold and can be supporting roles in our own story. We are the nucleus and they are the electrons whirling around us, defining us, creating us, and ultimately joining us to others like us.
But, if you’ll allow me to extend the metaphor, atoms don’t exist in a catatonic state. They fly around until they hit something else. And sometimes, when they hit each other, it doesn’t end well.
This, unfortunately, is true of us as well. When someone “bumps” into our atom that doesn’t fit, our flight or fight response naturally kicks in. We run or we pull the trigger (metaphorically or physically speaking.)
You know what this is like because everyone does it. When you left and went to college where all of a sudden you found yourself with new freedom, new friends, and seemingly a lot more time. How did you reconstruct your narrative? Did you find a significant other immediately? Did you drink a lot? Did you join the chess club or a bible study? What was your response to your deconstructed high school self?
Here’s the kicker: The girlfriend/boyfriend you found to help rebuild isn’t what you thought she/he was. Now what? Do you fight? Or do you run to someone or something else?
Eventually, we find ourselves in a safe space surrounded by others like us. We have created a community. Again, not bad. The danger comes when someone or something threatens our self. Our self-centeredness causes us to push away people who threaten who we are and what we believe. And a lot of times, we fight to protect our carefully constructed self at all costs.
This, of course, is the problem. Somewhere inside your heart (even if it is in the deepest darkest closet with cobwebs on the handle) is the alarm… “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger…”
You and I both know that putting self ahead of the other is a recipe for disaster; just look around you.
So, what do we do? How do we change the world?
Paul the Apostle said it best in his letter to small group of Christ followers in a region called Philippi…
“Do nothing out of rivalry or vanity; but, in humility, regard each other as better than yourself – look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”
It seems so simple.
Consider others as better than yourself. Some of us need to work on the “consider others” part. Yes, there are other people in the world and if what Paul says is true, we need to act like they are better than us.
And what I find the most fascinating about the whole message is not what Paul says, but what he doesn’t say. He offers no qualifiers for “other.”
The “others” in Paul’s mind is everyone that isn’t you. It isn’t people who look like you, who have what you have, who believe what you believe, who have the same God as you, or who share the same skin color as you. Whoa.
Other translations of the verse offer another insight into what Paul is saying. Some versions say, “Consider others as more valuable than yourself…” This implies that each person has inherent value and worth and we are to find the other and add to their value and worth.
You see, everyone has a story.
Everyone has a family.
Everyone has experienced loss.
Everyone has experienced joy.
Everyone has questioned their sanity, said a prayer, and loved someone or something.
In the eyes of every person is you and your story.
Paul knew it and he said. “They are valuable. Go, then, and add to their worth with your time and your money and your sweat and your tears.”
What’s even more fascinating is that as an apostle and disciple of Jesus, Paul was simply doing what he saw his rabbi doing. When Jesus knocked Paul off his ass on his ass, his invitation to him was to “be like him.” For Paul to say “consider others as better,” meant that he had learned it from somewhere. And we know he learned from his Rabbi, Jesus.
In Luke’s gospel account, he recounts a scene where Jesus tells a parable to a lawyer. This lawyer stands up and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life.
His question is lot like ours today. “Jesus can you tell me what I need to do to ensure my health, safety, and salvation? Give me the checklist and I’ll be on my way. Thanks!”
Instead of giving the man a simple answer (because it isn’t all that simple), he launches into a story about three men heading down a dark and winding road. And this punchline wasn’t going to be all the funny…
The story goes that a man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road that led down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This road is dark, winding, and altogether scary. As the man who was beaten is bleeding out, three people walk by. The first two, a priest and a Levite, walk right on by. As a matter of fact, they cross to the other side of the street and (I imagine) pulled their cloak a little tighter and added a little pep to their step.
Ahh. But the third gentleman, a Samaritan, sees the man and immediately comes to his aid. He rescues him and takes him to an inn where he pays for lodging and medical aid. And then, as he’s leaving the inn, the Samaritan looks at the inn keeper and tells him to take care of him because he is coming back. It was more than a subtle threat…
Jesus, having finished the story looks at the lawyer and asks him, “Who is this man’s (the one left for dead) neighbor?”
The lawyer responds, “The one who had compassion.”
But before you walk away and think to yourself what a great story. You must know that Samaritans and Jews didn’t simply just not get along. As a matter of fact, they hated each other. And yet, somehow, this Samaritan man found it within himself to show compassion to a dying man.
Because there are no qualifiers for other.
To put this in terms that might make this sting a little more, it’d be like a member of ISIS rescuing a dying Jew. Or a Democrat coming to the aid of Republican. Or a Christian offering care and concern for their homosexual neighbor.
Because other has no definition.
Perhaps the best commentary on the story of the Samaritan came from Martin Luther King Jr.
“Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try and determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop… But, I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road… and so, the first questions the priest asked, and the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
What if this was the question that made our hearts beat?
“What is at stake if I don’t consider the other?”
Because Paul knew what Jesus knew, our self was never meant to be the center of anything. It is the other that should have ultimate importance to us.
And there are no qualifiers for others.