Though we were standing right in front of him, the man remained seated and did not budge.
I cast a glance in my friend’s direction. “Excuse me, we’re sitting inside,” my friend said to him politely, pointing to the two seats next to his by the window of the airplane.
Still not making any eye contact, the man merely straightened his back and pushed back against his seat.
I felt a flash of annoyance. “Are you kidding me? How inconsiderate and lazy can a person get?” I thought, but was too cowardly to voice my views.
My friend shrugged helplessly. Reluctantly, I tried my best to squeeze through the tiny space between the back of the seat in front of the man and his legs. My friend followed suit.
As we took our seats, my friend whispered to me, “If you can hold your bladder for the rest of the flight, that’ll save us the trouble.” I nodded grimly, as I thought about the seven hour-long journey ahead of us.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the man fidgeting in his seat, shaking his left hand every so often, and lifting his watch to his left ear. A flight attendant walked over and kneeled next to his seat, asking if everything was okay. Perhaps he was hard of hearing, I thought.
A couple of hours into the flight, I knew I had no choice but to visit the lavatory. I nudged my friend, who turned to the man to tell him that I needed to get out. Once again, the man straightened his back and remained seated.
Sighing silently, I lifted my left leg and tried to squeeze through the small space between the man’s legs and the front of his seat. I repeated the same when I returned to my seat, my frustration rising.
Mealtime was next. Another flight attendant walked over and kneeled by the man’s aisle seat to ask him what he wanted to eat. After helping him to open up his tray table, she placed a tray of food on it. Still kneeling, the flight attendant then gently placed her hand over his right wrist and lifted his hand. “This is hot, this is cold, this is where your drink is. . .” she said kindly, as she guided it over the different covered food items on his tray.
That’s when realization hit me: The man was visually impaired. Everything that happened earlier started to make sense and a wave of shame came over me. Self-reprimanding thoughts filled my mind: “I should have known better”, “Why didn’t I give him the benefit of doubt?”, “Why am I always so quick to jump to conclusions about others?”
As I watched my friend offer to help the man with anything he needed, I saw a smile emerge on his face. He looked relieved and thanked my friend. Shortly after that, he asked if my friend could help him open the lid of a disposable water cup, which my friend did willingly.
Clearly, I was the inconsiderate person that day, not the man.
But that was not all that God wanted to teach me. As I went about sharing this encounter with others, God laid it on my heart that “feeling bad” about my response that day wasn’t anything to shout about—anyone in my shoes would have felt bad. I felt bad because I had misjudged the man and the situation at hand. I felt bad because my “little inconvenience” paled in comparison to what the man had to go through; he was clearly in a position of need and deserved help. I felt bad because my response made me look bad.
The truth was, had the man been an able-bodied person, I would have found all kinds of reasons to justify my anger and response. If the man didn’t deserve my help, I would have railed against his behavior and made him out to be a lazy and inconsiderate person whenever I had the opportunity to retell the incident.
My response was contingent on who the other party was and my assessment of his “need”. Underneath it all, I was still selfish and proud.
But the Bible never places conditions on how we should go about treating one another. In fact, we are called to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In all that we do, we should consider others first.
And we do so because we are called to imitate Jesus—our ultimate role model. In perfect humility, Jesus put aside his rights and status as God, and made himself nothing by coming to earth in the form of a human to serve us and ultimately die for us on the cross. (Philippians 2:5.8).
Jesus exemplified perfectly what it means to put the needs of others above our own. It was never about whether we “deserved” help. Had that been the case, none of us would have been saved. Jesus did not simply die for the “righteous” or “good”. It was while we were still sinners—unworthy of love and sympathy—that Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
So regardless of who the other party is, we ought to view them as more important and put his or her needs first—whether it’s that friend who always has something snarky or sarcastic to say, or that nosy aunty who can’t seem to stop giving you advice, or that inconsiderate stranger who shoves you aside so that he can get up the bus first. Showing love and helping another is independent of who the other party is.
By doing so, we give the people around us—both inside and outside of the church—a glimpse of the unconditional and sacrificial love of Christ, which will hopefully draw them a step closer to finding out who Jesus is and coming to believe in Him as their personal Lord and Savior.
Above and beyond my encounter with the man on the plane, I had to change the way I viewed and treated everyone around me. God certainly made it clear to me that it had to start at home in the most practical way—helping out in the household chores. And this means to take the initiative to help wash the dishes, hang the clothes, or fold the clothes without being told to, and without expecting a pat on the back.
And to be sure, it doesn’t stop there and it wouldn’t always be easy. But remembering Jesus, the ultimate example of selflessness, leaves me no room to find any excuses.