Our culture loves taking care of ‘number one’. We like to know that we’re in charge of our own stuff, can hang out with the kind of people we like, and plan our futures around what we want to do. Every time we see another advert for the latest smartphone, better insurance policy, or newest fashion craze, it pokes at our desire for stuff, safety, and status. This kind of thinking leaves less and less space for the others outside the walls of our lives. There are a few key players for each of us: our family, friends, or work colleagues, but the other 6,999,999,992 people world-wide rarely feature in our every-day story. Even just the 62,218,753 people we share the UK with, or the however-many we share a road with. They fade into the background; they are the backdrop to our lives and become nameless faces on the walk to work.
We’ve lost some of the value of connection. We don’t really see people, especially people who are poor and marginalised because they don’t really exist to us. They sew our clothes, work in our cities, grow our food, and live on our streets, but don’t feature in our every day. We are cocooned in this idea that what we do doesn’t really have any affect on anyone else; and the maize farmer inTanzania has little impact on our day-to-day lives.
But Jesus really valued people. He hung out with the sick and destitute; invited the man that no one liked to dinner. He taught us to move beyond just loving people, into a connection with others that considers them more important than ourselves. The Message version of Philippians 2:3 says it like this: ‘Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.‘
I’d never talked to a taxi man before, but the other day I got chatting to one who was driving me home that evening. He was from East Africa, and his English wasn’t very good but we tried our best to talk about what it was like to be a taxi driver in London. That taxi man was no longer another one of the people who sits in the backdrop of my life; it was an unremarkable conversation, but it felt like a small breakthrough in my attempt to value the people around me, whoever they are.
When we recognise the value of connection, we change the way we view people, especially those who we may never meet or ever even hear about. So when we’re thinking about which bananas to buy we choose the fairtrade ones so the rights of our neighbours across the world are upheld, because they matter to us. The homeless man on our street becomes an important part of our day because we say hello to him every morning. We start to really invest in each other because we know that our lives are somehow bound together in a way that surpasses just ‘me’ and ‘my’ life; and becomes part of God’s story of hope and restoration for the world.