Those Who Plant Trees Hardly Enjoy The Shade
Today, l had a conversation with a friend who appears to be weighed down by bouts of disappointments. She has, for many years, shelved her interest to help people around her. As the daughter of a pastor, she has been socialised to take the position of a servant in all matters. At least, she loves the Christ character, embodied in self denunciation. And also, as a budding sociologist, she enjoys doing all she could to live the values that have the potential of welding society together. Certainly, one of such values is selflessness.
But my friend's selflessness appears to have reached the breaking point. Her disenchantment is progressively eclipsing her altruism. In our conversation today, she said to me, 'Prempeh, l am tired of being taken advantage of, because of my kindness.' Her voice was emblematic of disillusionment!
She gave me a tall order of the many people she had bent her back for, who have, in the long run, trashed every iota of good she did to them. While she still believes Christian altruism is essential for gluing society together, she thinks that the expression of altruism must be punctuated with caution.
She left me thinking about moral philosophy. Why must l be good? Must l be good for the sake of goodness? Who determines what is good? In doing good, must l be pragmatic or altruistic? Must my quest to do good be deontological? Anyways, l thought carefully about her pensive disposition and felt that l had a response. My response to her was that of a farmer who plants a tree.
As l was loitering about in my community later after our conversation, l decided to sit under the shade of a palm tree to read my email and to surf the internet. Quickly, like the experience of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, l got an answer for my friend. I called and told her about the palm tree. The palm tree l sat under appeared to have been planted by one of the earliest settlers of my community. A close check and interview revealed to me that the planter of the tree died a few years after he had planted the tree. Impliedly, the planter did not enjoy the shade of the tree he planted.
I quickly became a Buddha. I reflected over Jesus's saying that greater love is to lay down your life for your friends. Throughout history, none has ever existed who demonstrated the love Jesus Christ demonstrated. In Roman culture, the idea of heroism was expressed in the manner of self-assertion. One must assert oneself. Fear, self denunciation, and selflessness were not virtues to covet. A cursory reading of the Spartans will show how self-assertion was prized. It was, therefore, strange that Jesus Christ, with all His powers, would willingly relinquish His power. It was surprising that He took the position of weakness!
More so, on the cross of Calvary, He had the gut to forgive those who were mocking and ridiculing Him. Again, in history, aggression for the sake of defense is tolerated and endorsed by virtually all cultures. But the inverse happened to Jesus Christ. He did not fire back when He was subjected to excruciating pain. He prayed for His persecutors.
After musing over the palm tree and contextualising it from a Christocentric perspective, l called my friend and asked her to stop punctuating her kindness with caution. Do good to all, including those who hurt you. This is, humanly speaking, difficult, but that is what Jesus Christ has called us to do. That is what will separate Christians from all others.
In the end, we must do good to people who cannot reciprocate our kindness. We must help the helpless, for true religion is one that establishes a true equilibrium between theocentrism and anthropocentrism. We must do good to those who persecute us, for that will tell them we don't share the venom in them. Our difference will bring them to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra.