Recently I came across this suggestion in a devotional book: “For the next thirty days, treat everyone you encounter as the most important person in the world.” Now that is quite a challenge. This activity ties in with our Advent season in which we focus on the comings of Christ. As our Sunday readings remind us, he came in history announced by John the Baptist and he will come in majesty at the end of the world. But Jesus also comes to us in the form of other people. That, along with his coming in the Eucharist, is indeed his coming in mystery!
God’s presence in people is the theme of Leo Tolstoy’s short story about Martin the cobbler who dreamed that God would visit him the next day. All day as the cobbler served the people he encountered, he waited for Jesus. At the end of the day, it was revealed to him that Jesus had indeed come—in those people.
As a flesh-and-blood tabernacle, every person is very important. Here are five ways to treat them that way—the way we would treat Jesus.
First, give compliments. Sometimes we mentally note that someone has an attractive hairdo. We realize that a person has done a good job cooking or cleaning. We recognize that a person has a special gift for singing or listening. Yet we never express our positive thoughts to him or her. We know what a boost it is to our self-confidence when we receive a compliment. Mark Twain remarked, “I could live for two months on a good compliment.” By being generous with compliments, we give joy to others.
Second, overlook faults. We ought to excuse others as we would like to be excused. This includes family that comes late for Mass, the driver of the car that almost hits us in a rush to leave the parking lot, and the person who criticizes or yells at us.
Third, say thank you. We take some people for granted and seldom, if ever, express our gratitude to them. So let’s thank ushers, librarians, postal workers, heads of organizations, and our own family members.
Four, focus on them. When speaking with someone, give them your whole attention. Look them in the eye. Avoid checking the room to see who else is there.
Five, do favors. Leave the choicest slice of meat for the person. Offer to run an errand. Surprise them with a gift.
Finally, as St. Teresa of Kolkata pointed out, we need to love and serve Christ in the distressing guise of the poor. There are plenty of opportunities for treating the poor as though they were the most important people in the world. We can serve immigrants, the homeless, the abused, the imprisoned, and the sick if not personally, by supporting organizations that care for them and for taking action for their rights.
How will you welcome Christ in other people this Advent? What other ways can you think of to treat everyone as the most important person in the world?