JUSTICE FOR GOD’S WORLD
Selfish ambition has no place at the manger
By Vernon S. Broyles III | Presbyterians Today
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. — Philippians 2:1–4
Selfish ambition, conceit, your own interests. What a perfect description Philippians offers us of the nation in which we live. We have been programmed as Americans to feel special, even better, than any other people in the world. Especially for those of us who are white, privileged Americans do these words ring true. We have been raised to take pride in our station in life, touting the amazing contributions we have made to the health and well-being of others who journey with us. For many of us, our motivation is grounded in our professed Christian faith — a faith tradition concerned with the well-being of humanity.
Yet we are crippled when our focus turns inward. It is the very selfish ambition mentioned by the writer of the epistle that trips us up. We see it every day in the march of “American exceptionalism” that undergirds our view of those less fortunate than we. It appears all too frequently in our sense of personal privilege, especially as we address issues of health, wealth and education. At its worst, it is captured by individualism, a treasured American value that has driven great accomplishments but has also created arrogance and distance within the human family.
Sadly, one of the places it appears starkly here at home is in the struggle over how our children will be protected from the coronavirus as they gather in their classrooms. Some parents demand the protections advised by our health authorities, while other vehemently argue that their children, even if they may be carriers of the virus, should not be required to wear a mask. And the most egregious damage to us all is being done by politicians who use this kind of battle to stir up their potential constituents for coming elections.
This call to humility from Philippians is grounded in the Gospel story of a baby born to parents who were poor, disenfranchised and relegated to a stable for the birth of their child. Our own lifestyles, our huge cathedrals, our pomp and circumstance, and many of our political allegiances that have followed that humble beginning are enough to make people of no faith or other faiths wonder just who we really are as professed Christians. It is a good question, indeed.
As we enter this Advent/Christmas season preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, it is time to reevaluate our own expectations of our religious and political leaders, and, most importantly, our own values and the lifestyles to which we are called by the peasant child, born in poverty, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Who are we as ones who say we welcome the Christ Child?
Vernon S. Broyles III is a volunteer for public witness in the PC(USA)’s Office of the General Assembly.
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