A couple of years ago, "Random Acts of Kindness" was a bestselling book in America. It's a collection of quotations and stories of real people, showing how the world can be made a little better, one small act of kindness at a time.
The events that took place in one 24-hour period 2,000 years ago might have seemed to some observers like just so many random acts. On that day, chronicled in the first chapter of Mark in the Bible (verses 21-34), Christ Jesus taught in a synagogue; he had an encounter with a man possessed by demons (and cured him); he visited the home of Simon, one of his disciples, where he healed Simon's mother-in-law of a fever; and in the evening, when most of us expect our day's events to wind down, Jesus welcomed many villagers who were diseased and who came to him for help. "And he healed many ...."
Love of God and love for other people were not once-in-a-while things in Jesus' day-to-day life. Unconditional love - love that reflects our relation to God, who is infinite Love - was at the center of Jesus' whole life.
What would happen these days if a community leader were to designate a certain day as a day of self-sacrifice? Residents would be encouraged to forfeit some portion of the time or labor or planning they usually devote to themselves, in order to help someone else. So, seeing you in a rush at the grocery store on this particular day, someone offers you his or her place at the front of the checkout line. Or, for your part, knowing that a close friend has been saddled with some unforeseen expenses, you decide to sacrifice a purchase you'd been planning for yourself so that you can help out your friend.
A couple of acts of kindness for the day are good, and make a difference. But people who make a sincere effort to look to the needs and interests of others enjoy doing much more than the occasional good deed. They fill many days with unselfish acts. A whole lifetime of them, perhaps.
That's because in acting unselfishly, they discover how right and good it is - contrary to what one might think when one hears the word sacrifice. After all, one may wonder, how can it be right or good to relinquish one's own interests?
The sacrifice connected with putting one's interests aside and doing good for others is fundamental to the way we are meant to act. It's right, because it is in accord with our real self as the likeness of God, the expression of divine Love, to be unselfish, to extend a helping hand, to eliminate suffering, to love.
When Jesus admonished his followers to love God with all their heart and to "love thy neighbour as thyself," he wasn't suggesting this only for exceptional occasions. He was underscoring the divine law of existence. He said, "On these two commandments hang all the law ..." (see Matt. 22:35-40). There is nothing that carries more weight or that is of greater importance. Loving God and loving one's neighbor is the focal point of unselfish living.
By putting our own selfish interests out of the picture and looking after the welfare of others, we are uncovering what our lives are not about. We are doing away with selfishness. Self-centered thinking, though we may not realize it, is similar to a sunscreen. It blocks out the healing spirit of divine Love, something so essential to a good and full life. In a message to the Church she established, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "When mortals learn to love aright; when they learn that man's highest happiness, that which has most of heaven in it, is in blessing others, and self-immolation - they will obey both the old and the new commandment, and receive the reward of obedience" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," pg. 17).
And what a reward that is. When we welcome God's love and express it continually, it has an uplifting, strengthening, and healing influence - as was the case with Jesus' day-to-day work and as is the case for anyone who follows his example. Jesus showed that unconditional love is what every day of our lives should be about.
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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society