Why “One” Matters
My summers spent on the family farm as a kid taught me something about the value of “one.” My grandparents started out as sharecroppers, and along the way they learned to treasure everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
One day my grandfather and I were fishing in a friend’s lake by the Interstate when my grandfather’s lure snagged something under the water. In fisherman’s terms, he got “hung-up”. I was some distance away and can’t say for sure, but I think he was saying something about a guy named “Sam” and a “hill”. I continued to fish and when I glanced back in my grandfather’s direction he was descending into the lake…naked. That’s right. My grandfather, a dignified politician, has disrobed in clear view of highway traffic in order to retrieve his lure.
The lure was a “rooster-tail” worth about three or four dollars at time. If you don’t fish you might wonder why a man with a decent income would do such a thing. But if you are “one of us” you understand a lure with a good track record of catching fish is a terrible thing to lose. And if you want to keep fishing on a given day you will do almost anything to retrieve it.
I have concluded our passion for lost souls is closely tied to how much people matter, or perhaps more accurately “why” they matter. We might say the generations of slaves that worked plantations in America mattered to their owners, but for the wrong reasons. Had their intrinsic value been placed above their economic value, they would have been set free immediately.
While it would be a mistake to compare slavery to voluntary interpersonal dynamics, it is worth noting any human relationship can miss the “why”. Is a customer merely a source of income, or someone whose life we sincerely hope to improve with our product? Does our spouse exist to meet our needs or to partner with us in creating a home that brings light to a dark and broken world? How do we treat people in the service industry when they make a mistake, and what is our general demeanor when we are called on to show patience to others?
I think everything depends on these answers to the “why”:
People matter because they are made in the image of God. Some think our basic humanity will motivate us to care about what happens to our neighbor. This would be true if it were not for our fallen nature, and our tendency to put our needs above the needs of others. If people are made in the image of God, then we are either honoring or destroying that image by our behavior.
People matter because they are put here for a purpose. I once attended a funeral for a woman whose brother was delivering the eulogy. The woman had begun her life with great potential, but an abusive husband had slowly robbed her of the gifts God put in her. At the end of his message her brother walked over to her casket, patted it a couple of times with his hand and said, “What could have been…what could have been.” At the time this struck me as insensitive and uncaring, but now I understand: the woman was merely a means to her husband’s selfish means and as a result she never fulfilled her potential. Her brother was rather direct in his comment, but he was accurate. His brother-in-law had ignored his sister’s purpose.
People matter because they matter to God. Jesus told us, “God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son”. During His earthly ministry Jesus met many people who had been used, abused and maligned by the spiritual leaders who were supposed to be guiding them. Jesus reached out to the same people with hope and grace. If the world had been perfect Jesus wouldn’t have come. His presence and His passion proved He cared about the lost.
People matter because we matter. I know this statement might sound a little narcissistic, but stick with me here. The “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12) presumes we have a healthy self-image and an expectation when it comes to how others should treat us. It is a good thing to be able to recognize when we are being devalued. For this reason, we know how others feel when they are devalued, and we understand how much it means to them when we affirm them. Perhaps this is why Jesus was able to say this to His disciples: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
As we pray for our “ones” in life who need Jesus it is hard to predict how God will move. We don’t know when or where a “one” might cross our paths. We don’t know how many “ones” God might want to send into our lives, or the order in which they might come. Yet, if we remember why every “one” matters, we will be more inclined to respond when the opportunity presents itself.
One way to narrow down the “why” is to stay focused on the cross. It is hard to comprehend why Jesus died there. The only possible explanation is because we matter. The cross demands the question “why” and we provide the answer.
People like me. People like us. (And yes, that is a thinly veiled “shout out” to Mamas and Papas fans out there – they mattered to God too)