The season is upon us during which shopping, traveling, and eating out will almost be necessities. People will line up to get the newest gadget or deal. Clerks and waiters will be hired to keep up with the rush; they have no experience and they will receive little training. The people we meet will be under great stress, whether they are shoppers or servers. As Christians, we have an opportunity to stand out, to be different from them. Through our choices, we can stand out as positive examples of Christ and His Kingdom or we can join the fray, pushing and shoving our way to bargains and making demands of the least of these servers and clerks. This is a love-your-neighbor question: Will we or will we not stand out as followers of Christ?
It may be that our consumer-based culture has impacted us. These days, it seems most interactions that take place between two people are financial transactions quantitatively assessed in terms of dollars.
For example: Let’s say I am paying $60 for a meal, so I assume I deserve this, that, and the other thing. I want the server at my table at each whim upon which I have decided I now need something. And I do not want the server at my table when I have no such whim. I want this and I want that, because I am paying “x” amount of dollars and I deserve it. The server is reduced to a slave—something less-than-human—in order to meet my needs…or to put it more truthfully, my wants.
Or: Let’s say I paid good money for a product and I paid for it to be shipped to me in a certain condition and in a certain amount of time. When my expectations are not met, I can contact the company or distributor and berate the voice on the other end of the line because my needs were not met. The voice, far from being treated like the human being created in God’s image that he or she is, has been reduced to a machine without feelings whom I expect to meet whatever demands I make. Oh, and I will expect that he—I mean it—will apologize for whatever demands were not met in the first place.
Examples could be multiplied. Lodgers at hotels demand the same things. We can imagine others, no doubt. Christians make this more prevalent, unfortunately, because we justify our rudeness. We claim that we are merely being good stewards of the gifts and finances God has entrusted to us. Thus, I can rationalize being rude in an attempt to stretch that gift as far as I can.
In this, we are being Pharisees. It was the Pharisees who justified not caring for their parents and elders, so long as they were giving their money to the temple (Matt. 15:4-6). We have to remember that the person on the other side of the menu, the phone, or the desk is a human being made in God’s image, a neighbor we are to love. The question we need to ask is not can I make this demand, but should I make this demand. Can I refuse to walk the mile? Or should I go the second mile? Can I demand to give up my cloak, or should I give up my cloak and my coat?
We are entering the perfect season for developing a habit of life that cultivates an intentional love for our neighbor. In November we celebrate Thanksgiving. We can and should continue to love and thank the people we meet and interact with as people, not as the other side of a business transaction. We can thank them with words; we can thank them with gestures: generous tips, cleaning up after ourselves, and holding doors open for them. In December we celebrate Advent and Christmas. We can pour out love, kindness, and generosity on the people we meet. We can treat them as images of God deserving of love and gifts, not as business transactions. We can delight in them with words; we can delight in them with gestures: generous tips, unexpected gifts, and unsolicited prayers.
Recently, I went into a restaurant and was seated with my family. The server took our drink order, returned with our drinks, and asked for our food order. I ordered last and after presenting my food order, I confirmed that her name was Phyllis and I shared my name with her. I then told her that when we received our meal, we would be praying to ask God’s blessing upon it. I asked her if there was anything for which we could pray for her. There was a twinkle of surprise and delight in her eyes at the question. She was being treated like a human being. Someone actually cared to hear what her needs were and to pray for them. She was more than just a carrier of food, drinks, and refills. Someone—for no other reason than to demonstrate that God loves—was loving her.