“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”…
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Often, on the force of my emotions (especially anger or anxiety) I throw myself headlong into something – a loud argument, an inflicting pain competition, a grabby/bossy controlfest, or a full-blown panic attack. I know that I am very self-centered in these moments and that my actions and reactions are all about me. This can also happen when I’m overwhelmed with desire for pleasure, for then I will manipulate people and situations to get what I want, ignoring the small, still voice within that is telling me that I shouldn’t. When the force of anger, anxiety, stress, greed, or lust are given full sway, our hearts get swamped, drowning the voice of our better angels.
There are moments in our lives when immediate action is necessary. Moments when we should follow our natural instincts and do what comes naturally. These are times when we see a loved one in immediate danger and we rush forward to assist, to save. Or when we see a stranger being beaten mercilessly and we stand up and speak out against the injustice. Or when someone falls and we reach out a hand, without even thinking, to catch him. I’m thinking that there might be other moments, too… But I can’t think of any right now. All that I can think of are these moments – these moments of love.
If the building we are in catches fire, our instinct is to get the heck out. That’s a good natural instinct, all about self-preservation – self-preservation itself is not a bad thing, for we exist for good reason. If we know that there are other people in the fire, people that may not know of the danger, or people who are trapped and unable to escape, then perhaps we will not run out of the building so quickly. We may hesitate, wanting to help the others, but the inner call to flee will most often overwhelm us. Perhaps, outside of the building, still thinking about the others inside, we will be overcome with a sense of responsibility and, yes, a sense of guilt. Then, we might summon the courage and the bravery to overcome our instincts and walk back into the burning building. Firefighters walk into burning buildings all the time. But they need to receive training that will help them to overcome their natural instincts in order to fight the blaze and save people – they also have lots of protective gear and equipment, which is extremely helpful. But, even with training, precautions, and fireproof materials, firefighters still continually die in the course of performing their duties. Every person who joins a fire department knows the risk. And people still join every day, still rush into blazes from which non-firefighters are fleeing.
The point is that human beings are able to do brave and beautiful things with love and responsibility. We are not all perfect right out of the box. We grow, learn and develop. And, hopefully, we learn the importance of love and develop the willingness and the desire to give ourselves in true love and to receive the presence of others as priceless gift, and so, be responsible to and for each other. We human beings have an amazing capacity for selflessness, generosity, and courage. This is the humanity that Jesus Christ holds up when he is nailed on the Cross. All goodness in us, all godliness in us, we too easily leave behind when we are rushing in to fulfill our selfish desires. But Christ not only reminds us of who we were created to be, but he also sanctifies who we are: broken, weak, even scared, but willing to sacrifice ourselves to save others. Christ did this in a singular act that is for all time – for Jesus is not only fully human, but also fully divine, and so all of his actions are initiated and infused with and by Infinite Eternity. We can do it, too, though in smaller, less universally significant ways that are no less important because they are caught up with Christ’s sacrifice for all.
When a stranger jumps in front of a speeding truck to push a pedestrian out of its path to safety, or when you take the arm of an elderly person who is climbing steps in order to give assistance, or when I hold my tongue when my mother is annoying me greatly though she means only to help me – we are Christ. We do not put ourselves first. We don’t let the strength of our self-centered emotions or instincts overtake us. We weaken our instincts for self-preservation or even for self gratification so that we may be strong in love. Love is the greatest and most indomitable force out there. And it’s in here, right in here, right inside of me. Love is my strength, my goodness, my beauty, my courage, my salvation, my joy, my glory – precisely because it isn’t mine. I do not possess love nor do I have a claim upon it that is exclusive of others. Love is given to me from Love Itself. Love is the reason that I exist. Love is why I am formed. Love is infused in me by grace. Love flows out from me to others, to the other – but only if I will it. If I listen first to worldliness, to the flesh, to self-centeredness, to me, myself, and I, then I put my true self last. I put love – true love, love that is given and received, agape, divine love – at the bottom of my list of priorities. And then I fail as a human being. For love is first and will always be first. Though our self-centeredness may place love last as we rush in to be first, in the end, God makes all things right.
Note: this is not any kind of an exegesis or explanation of the scriptural verse. This is just a Burst – biblically inspired reflections of the moment.