Who are the best of us?
We seem to have this strong bent to compete and compare ourselves with others with a hope to be “the best” in whatever area we are setting that goal. That push is not new but appears to have gained momentum in each decade as we seek to push the limits higher and higher to attain “the best”. But how do we determine what that is? Records of achievement are routinely broken.
The goal of “the best” connotes success to most of us. And we admire success in all its forms. We flock to stadiums and arenas to watch the “best” teams compete against one another. We are willing to pay the highest ticket price for the musician we deem “the best” and we will travel great distances to see them perform. We choose leaders in every area of life and often we choose them because of their history of success, and we believe they will correspondingly be “the best”. We are drawn to the tallest, brightest, and most attractive people and sometimes attribute things to them that may not even be true because of those traits we determine to be “the best”.
We may give a standing ovation to the person graduating at the top of his or her class, but not notice the parents who sacrificed their own dreams and worked multiple jobs (some menial) and long hours to provide this person with all the necessary skills and abilities to harness their natural talent to arrive at this accomplishment. They don’t show up on a stage or receive the applause, but when they don’t then I think we miss “the best” of us.
We watch the baker as he or she pulls the perfectly shaped loaves of bread from the oven. We take in the scent of the warm bread as it is set before us and our mouths water as we prepare to take our first bite of it with “the best” olive oil to dip it in or the richest creamy butter we can find. What we have seen and smelled doesn’t disappoint our expectations and we declare to the baker that it is simply “the best” we have ever tasted and the baker “the best” in town. It might be, but how can the baker be “the best” without considering the farmer who tilled the soil, chose the very best seed, watched over the fields with care knowing that he could not control the weather to assure he would glean a great crop. The farmer’s days would be long and hard and the price for a bushel of grain would vary from day to day and be comparatively small for the fancy bread at a high- end bakery on a big city street. Would the farmer ever receive such acclaim?
That favorite story from the Old Testament of the giant and the boy with only a sling and some small stones. Yes, the Goliath story where this giant was considered unbeatable and “the best” warrior. He was so good that no one would risk fighting him. Then a boy not old enough to be a solider arrives with lunch for his brothers and is shocked that all the warriors on the battlefield are trembling. He steps up and offers to take on the giant and in the epic scene fells the giant with the sling and small stones he carried with him all the time. Who was “the best”?
There is another story some of you know about a big crowd out on a hillside to hear the greatest preaching and teaching ever. He was so outstanding they all followed him to this hillside without a thought to bring anything to eat. But there is this one boy who happened to bring a small lunch of five loaves and two fish. When the great teacher, Jesus, tells his disciples to feed all these people they have no idea how to manage that with no available food nearby. When they tell Jesus about the boy with the small lunch you might know what happens next. He blesses that small lunch, and it is multiplied to feed the 5,000 on the hill. This boy in the story doesn’t get his name mentioned, but I think he would qualify as one of “the best.”
As I listened to stories of heroism that happened on September 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists using planes as weapons to fly into buildings of significance that represented power and success, I was impacted especially by one story. A young man who had grown up with a desire to help people and to be an EMT was working as a delivery boy for a law firm in New York City. He was a month away from entering the EMT training that had been his passion. When the planes flew into the towers, he was nearby making a delivery and immediately jumped in to help in any and all ways that he could. The law firm called for him to come back to work, but he chose instead to offer all the help he could with what skills he had and a heart willing to give his all. His efforts would be captured in photos in news reports, but he would not be a name you would hear of even though he would lose his life trying to save others.
The best of us will often not be names we would recognize as famous. They will not make the most money, but often less than others. They may never earn the highest degrees or get the trophies we all admire. Most will not consider themselves to be special or unique, but they will all have two qualities that stand out. They will seek to serve others and be willing to sacrifice for what they believe in as a calling to help in that service. In these two qualities they will demonstrate nobility of character that exceeds those whom we watch and applaud at sporting events and in concert halls. They will exceed those who make more money and are lauded as the most attractive.
They will know themselves well enough to know their strengths while also acknowledging their weaknesses. Because of that they will be less likely to fall prey to pride and more likely to go about life with humility as a hallmark of their character as well.
One day I think these unnamed persons will receive the applause of heaven because they chose to serve and sacrifice even as Christ did to give all who would receive Him life with Him forever.