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Usha and Mercy
Kisumu - Kenya

IN HIS FOOTSTEPS

NO 6 April 2006
Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12- 26

COMMUNITY VERSUS INDIVIDUALITY
INTRODUCTION

Most of us live and work in a community of people. To some, the word community is a good word which brings security, a feeling of belonging and a feeling of togetherness. It gives a safety net over which we can try out new ideas; do things together without a sense of failure; talk matters over with others who care and somewhere where we can come home and be welcomed. To others, it is a word that brings frustration, as it feels as if a fence is around them, stifling their individuality.

We want to belong to a community and feel that someone cares for us, yet at the same time, we want an individual identity that does not tie us to other people. We want to be ourselves, and not fit into a mould which someone else has made for us, At the same time, we want all the privileges and security that a community gives us.

When we are part of a community, although we are an individual with needs, concerns and ambitions of our own, we must realise that we belong to something much bigger than ourselves. There is always a tension between our needs as an individual and the needs of a community. The apostle Paul describes this situation perfectly when he compares us to a body with different parts. Each part, even the smallest, most insignificant one has a special role to play and is absolutely necessary for the well- being of the body. So too it is within a community. Just as we need doctors, we also need cobblers, sweepers, ward orderlies, cooks, nurses, technicians, accountants, administrators, secretaries, attenders to function well. Everyone’s ambitions need to be listened to, respected and given an opportunity to grow and succeed.

LISTEN WITH YOUR HEART

In every culture, some people are given more status and importance than others. But Jesus taught us that in His Kingdom there is a reversal of such values. The one considered the least is as important as the greatest and most powerful. During His life-time, the tax man who cheated, the prostitute, the rough fishermen, the warrior, the outcaste Samarian, were as close to Him as the rich Pharisee who invited him to his home for dinner.

Today, our society rewards personal achievement, success, ambition and selfish single- mindedness. To be successful, a person feels that he or she needs to move ahead of others, to be respected more than others, to have more than others. To do this, there is betrayal of friendship, disloyalty to others, selfishness, and a mean mentality that does not consider other people’s feelings. Often there is injustice against others who also want to get on ahead. Success is often at the cost of someone else’s failure. Such values and “ me only “ behavior does not go well with living and working in a community. If a community is based on the survival of the fittest and sharpest only, there will be much aggression and deep- rooted discontent which slowly destroys community values. In a community, everyone needs to do well.

But is this really possible? Is it possible for individual creativity and ambition to flower, and the needs of a working community to be met at the same time? A young woman research worker was applying for a scholarship to study abroad. She knew that there was another person who also wanted to apply, and deliberately gave this person some wrong information which resulted in the other person not being eligible to apply that year, while she was. Being the only applicant, she got the grant. In another instance, a young man who had been given an air travel grant for a conference, asked his colleague who was also interested in the same subject if he too would like to attend. He chose to go by second class on a train so that they could both attend the conference.

GO AND DO LIKEWISE

All of us are blessed with gifts of creativity and individual talents which we are expected to use to the best of our abilities. One of our fears is whether living and working in a community will reduce or stifle these gifts and talents. “ If I let my colleague go first, will I end up being last?” “If I share my ideas with him, will he steal them and get the credit?” “ If I treat everyone with respect, will they sit on my head?” These are very real fears which we all face. How then can we use our talents and satisfy our deep creative needs to make a difference?

We see the example Jesus set for us in the way he lived and interacted with his disciples. Like in any community, they were a mixed lot, with varying ambitions, desires and characters. We can imagine that Jesus would have made each person in this community feel secure and confident in his own talents. Jesus would have showed them that they did not have to run each other down before him, to gain his respect. At every point, Jesus showed that sharing goodness, kindness, and caring for each other was the hallmark of good living and happiness. It was the way everyone found happiness and meaning in what they did.

We know from the lives of the rich and famous that individual success does not guarantee personal happiness or meaning in life. We see how in families too, the drive for personal success at the cost of the rest of the family ends up in sadness. Today, when there are so many misunderstandings; when people feel isolated, resentful and envious of others at workplaces, we need the kind of security, acceptance and encouragement that Jesus gave his disciples, which allowed each of them to be the kind of men they were after his death. If we truly believe and live the ‘Jesus’ way, we need not fear that we will get left behind, or that our ideas will get crushed or that our work will go unnoticed. Our reward may not be our own success only, but also that of our whole community.

FOR YOU TO THINK AND DISCUSS

  • What do you think is the “Jesus” way of working together? List down some ideas and see how many are practiced at your place of work.
  • In your place of work, how can you foster individual creativity alongside everyone else’s goals?

FOR YOU TO MEDITATE ON

Lord, there is so much I want to do with my life,
I dream of awards and recognition for the things I do.
But often I am disappointed that at the end of the day
I have nothing to show for my work or my life.
Help me to remember that every kind word I speak today,
Every thoughtful gesture, every good deed,
that brings hope to someone else, is my reward.
Help me also to remember, that in your kingdom,
there are no favourites.
I don’t have to pull and push to get to the front.
You know where I am and what I can do,
And you give me the freedom
to be the kind of person you want me to be.
Help me to be that person please.
Amen

USHA JESUDASAN - ushajesudasan@gmail.com

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