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On Sunday I visited my old college church and joined Sunday school. Shortly after we got into our small discussion groups, a young college student plopped down in the empty chair next to me, fussed about with his bag to find a pen, and immediately jumped into the discussion, offering his views of the passage without seeking the context of our own group discussion. He rambled on with observations that were difficult to follow, and, at the end of these long remarks, exasperated by his own loquaciousness, punctuated each statement with a, “Am I making any sense? Sorry, I just want to be clear”. His obsequious character reminded me of myself in college and high school, which was grounds enough to dislike him.

I thought I was rid of him after Sunday school, but I ended up sitting next to him at the picnic tables for church lunch. There were 4 of us – the young college student (let’s call him Bob), his friend (Jim), my friend and myself. Jim was handicapped who needed a walker that stabilized him when he walked, and also spoke with a slight impediment that made it difficult to hear and comprehend his speech. We were all conversing about college and their future plans when suddenly Jim requested a refill for his plate. With the same frantic eagerness he displayed during Sunday School, Bob jumped up immediately to fulfill Jim’s request. He clumsily clanged his own fork to his plate, abandoned his meal and took up his neighbor’s empty, greasy, paper plate and trooped off to the kitchen in search of seconds. I felt astonished both by the clumsiness of the action but also by the swiftness – Bob did not bat an eye or delay a second to serve his brother. He was so eager to serve that not only did he abandon his hot meal to the cooling wind, but also completely failed to remember that the Chinese congregation had not been served, which meant that he would inevitably be denied at the kitchen line and be told to wait until all church members were served. In other words, so eager was he to fulfill his friend’s request that he completely ignored the situation and himself!

From one perspective, Bob, in his blind and eager zeal, not only failed to bring back a second plate of food to his friend but also managed to let his own plate of food go cold as well. But, from a spiritual perspective, the lens through which Jesus sees us, Bob was working for the kingdom of heaven through his imperfect service to his neighbor. I felt humbled by the young man whom I had just only secretly derided in my heart for his bumbling deferential nature. His unselfconscious humility, or what I early termed as his “obsequiousness”, enabled him to serve his brother without any self-conscious thought to impede true service.

How often, do I do good to others and just as soon shout on the rooftops about my own righteous deeds? Or, even if I did not advertise my own goodness, how good do I feel when I sacrifice a little of myself for another? Do I not keep some sort of account of my good deeds in my mind, consciously or subconsciously, to monitor my own goodness? And, by that monitoring, obtain the reward of knowing my own righteousness?

But Jesus calls us to think differently. When Christ taught his disciples to give alms, he said that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand gives in secret (Matt. 6.1-4). In other words, we are to hide our discipleship, our deeds, from ourselves. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “we must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary, but quite ordinary and natural” (Bonhoeffer 158). If the Christian is ever to give, or serve, He calls us to do it spontaneously and without self-consciousness lest we grow conscious of our own righteousness. And, now, I feel ashamed at my own judgment of this young, college student. For he, although unable to articulate clearly his own thoughts on serving our neighbors, has clearly understood the Christ’s message to love our neighbors.


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