You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
– Galatians 5:13-15
My wife and I had an odd trip to the wholesale warehouse store. We were there for two things. One was to renew our membership. Since we had signed up for executive membership and we do our pharmacy shopping at the store, our membership was not only free, I got some cash back. (Executive members at this store get 2 percent back every year to go toward the membership fees. And we just got this next year for free. Yippee!)
The second thing was that we had a little problem in our house where we rent. The water heater went out, dampening the carpet. We had a few other carpet issues, so I was looking for a wet vacuum. Instead, I found a carpet cleaner that was on sale. I’m talking sale from the wholesale price, maybe less than half of retail, equal to 3-4 days of equipment rental. We had a few other problems around the house besides the latest issue, so we bought it.
While my wife went to the checkout, I went to customer service to renew the membership. When I got my cash back, I turned and my wife was just walking up. Perfect timing.
We had parked in the nearest handicapped spot to the front door, but the cart return area was further away. My wife has been doubly ill lately. (I will write more on that later this week.) I let her sit in the car while I unloaded the carpet cleaner in the car and pushed the cart to the return area.
All the previous information was set-up to what happened next.
There was a family of five walking from further down the parking lot. I was walking away from the store, while they were approaching. Normally, when you meet someone in the USA, you step to the right so that both parties can pass. I was already all the way to the right, immediately next to the parked cars. I had the cart, pushed by my left hand, while I held my cane in the right. The family of five seemed to be healthy people. They could move.
When they saw me, they stopped. They refused to step to the right and let me pass. What was worse, they parked themselves directly in front of the cart return area, blocking my path completely. The father was ready for the showdown at the OK Corral, but I immediately, without hesitation, stepped to the left into the traffic lane and walked past them. They moved toward the store, allowing me to return the cart.
A moment of selfishness came over me. A voice in my head told me that I had been courteous to everyone that I met (for the most part) for sixty years, plus. It was high time that I was treated with respect! Just following common practice of stepping to the right would be nice.
Then another voice in my head had His turn. “They live here. Your home is somewhere else. You are just passing through.” I used the cane heavily, due to being exhausted, in getting back to the car. Since it was hot, my wife had used her keys to get the car cool before my return.
Before we got out of the parking lot, my wife told me her tale of woe at the checkout lane. If you have been to this type of store, the cart goes on one side and the shopper goes on the other side of the register. Each register alternates. That places two sets of shoppers in the same general area for the registers on either side, usually with room to spare, but not always. My wife was next to an elderly couple. With canes and bulky boxes, the couple struggled to get things onto the belt. My wife stepped aside so that they could manage things. As she did this, the man behind her, rammed his cart into my wife, and continued to shove as if to push her out of the way. With my wife’s medications, there will be bruises.
My wife told me this tale and then she said to me as we went home, “The man could clearly see that I was in line in front of him! He could see that I was being courteous to the old couple! Why? Why did he hit me with his cart? Does anyone recognize courtesy anymore?”
I smiled and nearly chuckled. “He lives here. Our home is not of this world. We are just passing through. Our world loves our neighbors. This world, not so much. We are courteous to others because of that love, but they do not understand the source of our love and see our courtesy as weakness. That’s their problem.”
I wondered though. The other people that we had just met may be children of God as well. The father of the family of five did not want to step into traffic. The man who assaulted my wife may not have been paying attention and did not know that my wife was in line. He could have been having a bad day. Forgiving everyone was easy. But what amazes me is our reaction to the ‘offenses’. Mine wasn’t even an offense. It was just a variance to common practice.
Thinking of that common practice, I ventured to Thailand for the first time, teaching class there for two weeks in 1997. They drive to the left in Thailand, but we had a driver taking my partner and me to work. Our problem was crossing the street on foot and trying to remember from which direction the traffic will move. After I had been there for a week, I left my hotel room in a hurry to get to dinner one evening. In the hallway, a bellhop was approaching from the other direction with a heavy bag underneath each arm (not roller bags). I did what was courteous in my country. I stepped to the right. He did what was courteous in his country, a country that drives on the left, he stepped to the left. We slammed into each other at full speed. The average Thai man is shorter than I am. Although the bellhop was rather stout, he bounced off me and fell to the floor. I helped him up, and tried to apologize, even though he probably knew no English. He responded with a few friendly Thai words, before he burst into laughter. We both had a good laugh. That family of five could have been from Thailand, but probably not.
My wife’s offense could have been considered assault. This guy was exhibiting the behavior the Apostle Paul warned us about in Galatians 5:15. He was ready to devour. If she would be willing to show the bruises to the court, we might get a great settlement – of course, not letting the jury know about the medications.
Why did I tell this story? Loving our neighbor is not easy at times. Jesus goes further to have us love our enemy. Sometimes that might be easier than to loving the guy next door who does very irritating things, three times a day, every day, for twenty years. (Can you get the impression that I grew up on a farm, ten miles out of town with the nearest neighbor a half mile away? This city living is new and foreign to me.)
But no matter how hard it is to love the guy who dumps his garbage into your trash can after dark so that he doesn’t have to pay for garbage collection, we do not have our home here on earth. We were made for heaven. Therefore, if I can dare stretch this point, we are aliens in a foreign land. We have two sets of values, the local value system and the heavenly one. We should always err to the side of the greater courtesy. After all, as an alien from a foreign land, we want to show others that our homeland is a nice place to live.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.