What is the most important thing in the world?

Scott Cadman

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A few weeks ago, I returned from a holiday in New Zealand having celebrated my father’s 90th birthday. One simple question our wider family faced, “what do you give someone who’s turning 90?”

The story of Abraham and Sarah did come to mind, though I was secretly pleased my parents didn’t surprise me and my sisters with news we were soon to have a new sibling.

What do you give a 90-year-old? Most people at that age are downsizing, deciding what they will leave to others, not what they will receive.

In the end, the family gathering for a party we had over two days turned out to be the perfect gift. A gift that echoed a Māori proverb I had stumbled on earlier in our holiday.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people!

Often people’s names come up in conversation when holidaying in New Zealand. Some, as we reminisce about the past. Others, we enquire in the present.

My younger sister lives just down the road from the Auckland maximum-security prison, where I worked fulltime for a year alongside Bob Grinder, who was chaplain as part of my ministry training. As we drove past it for old times’ sake, I thought of Bob who personified kindness, gentleness, and patience.

In a place built to lock away those responsible for some of the worst things a human being can do, those deserving of absolutely nothing, Bob taught me the most important thing in the world.

People. Yes, even these people. For God so loved the world. Not just the ones we get on with.

Another time we talked about Graeme Murray, the church secretary when I wanted to attend theological college.

Now, I had left this to the very last minute. At the last Diaconate meeting before applications were due, I summonsed up the courage to ask Graeme mid-meeting if I could have a word outside.

He told me I should also tell my parents, and by the time I returned into the room Graeme had already done everything necessary to go.

He did it with grace, skill, and with a warmth I have never forgotten. For he set me on my life’s path, for which I have been far more blessed than I could ever imagine.

Though he completed all the procedural requirements, what I remember is that he treated me like the most important person to have ever crossed his path.

On this holiday it struck me again that – whether we are 19 or 90 – the greatest gift we can give and receive is to welcome, encourage, forgive, embrace, include, and love the people we are given and the people we meet. These people are God’s gift to us all, so let us be thankful for them all.

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