After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, there were innumerable acts of heroism, as first responders and average citizens mustered their collective wills to find a way forward. The sheer acts of selfless service and courage it took to see through the wreckage and loss of life to see a future that was more hopeful than hateful and gave those of us looking on from thousands of miles away a glimpse of what could be after the tragedy.
Hours after the smoking towers fell, we began to hear stories of brave souls climbing the stairs in search of those who may have been trapped. They risked life and limb in the hopes of bringing another soul to safety. For many, it would be their last act of obedience in this world. I imagine that many wondered if they would make it out as they climbed. And yet they climbed.
One of the stories I remember most vividly was from (if memory serves me) a retired Battalion Chief of the NY Fire Department. He gave an interview to a magazine where he shared about the commitment of the brave men and women of the department to serve their city and each other. He offered a quotation of a famous Fire Chief named Edward F. Croker. He paraphrased the lines in the interview, but I was able to find what I believe to be a fuller accounting, I offer it here in full.
“Firemen are going to get killed. When they join the department they face that fact. When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. They were not thinking of getting killed when they went where death lurked. They went there to put the fire out, and got killed. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.” – Edward Croker, February 1908 (emphasis added) [Source]
The highlighted portion is what I remember from the Battalion Chief. There was something about it that spoke to me given the severity and burden of the task after 9/11. But in this sentiment, I find a corollary idea in the Christian journey.
As Christians, the only sacrifice we make is to forsake our own lives for the cause of Christ. The apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). This is the full extent of what it means to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
To live out our faith each and every day is an act of obedience because the sacrifice has already taken place when we said “yes” to Jesus. Everything else we do because we recognize and accept it as being “in the line of work.”