Do you fit the mould? You know… the one our society sets?
We are essentially dictated to daily by the ‘cool group at school’. The fashion magazines, the social pages, the latest rom coms… they all offer a way, a style, a form… The creators of these institutions set agendas and abuse power through exploitation of celebrities and the promotion of unrealistic ideals about how people should look, act and live their lives.
Most of us would say we do our own thing regardless of what the media says. We’re unique. Yes, we like to look nice and express our personal style – but on our terms.
But have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who truly seems to be judging you – whether on your appearance, or something you said – and started to doubt if you are really up to scratch? I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t suffer insecurities at one time or another because someone has belittled them. And again, the media has a lot to answer for here. Every time the tabloids attack Britney Spears, for example, they belittle us. We read these scathing reviews of her failed attempts at weight loss, her poor mothering skills, and her inability to hold a relationship together… and our own voices of self-doubt kick into gear.
And if we look deeply enough, there isn’t one of us who hasn’t looked down on someone else at one point or another for not ‘fitting the bill’ or adhering to the status quo – whatever that actually is this week.
And the less we love ourselves… the less we have truly received the unconditional grace of God… the easier it is to think we’re better than another person. That we’re more cool, smart or worthy of being liked.
Jesus was a status quo reverser if ever I saw one. He upturned society’s notions of ‘acceptable’ and played to a different tune. He was amazing, and I never tire of hearing about his courage, boldness and edginess.
Mark 9:33-37 recalls a time when Jesus was on the road with his disciples. Jesus knew they’d been having an argument and he asked them about it.
The text says:
“”But they kept quiet [when Jesus asked them] because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve [disciples] and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.””
We all fight the drive to be ‘first’ at different times. We want to be the most liked, the best student, the best looking, the loudest, the strongest… even the kindest. We want to be seen for our achievements and attributes. To be lauded and celebrated… at least once in a while. It’s normal and natural to want to play to our strengths, and I think it’s good to engage in activity or work in which we excel and have value to offer. God uses our gifts to bless others, show his glory and give us joy. But when we think we are better than someone because of our gifting, Jesus has a way of reminding us what he values.
If we find ourselves desiring to be first, as Jesus says, we must strive instead for a servant stance. Rather than trying to outdo others in our endeavors to be seen, we must take on the role of someone who serves others in all they do. Serving others doesn’t mean putting ourselves down, but it means remembering what approach God values the most (and what will ultimately be the most satisfying for us anyway). Jesus is God, yet his life on earth was the ultimate model of servanthood and love.
I love the imagery of Jesus taking the child in his arms as he illustrates his point to the disciples. We show our love for him by the way we treat the least well-regarded on the social ladder.
A commentary states:
“The child in this scene (9:36) is a concrete example of one who would be regarded as ‘last of all’ in the ancient social order. The high infant mortality rate in antiquity contributed to the marginalization of children. Perhaps fewer than half lived to their fifth year. They had only recently come from the divine realm and were likely to leave this life at any time; thus, they were not fully human beings (Wiedemann 1989). Indeed in the Gospel narrative all the children who have been portrayed up to this point have been either terminally ill (5:23), demon-possessed (7:25; 9:17), or under the control of evil and manipulative adults (6:22–25).”
[Dowd, Sharyn Echols: Reading Mark : A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel. Macon, Ga. : Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000 (Reading the New Testament Series), S. 96]
Yet Jesus took them, the marginalised, the oppressed, the forgotten… and held them in his arms. He took the focus off arguments about rank and status and shone the spotlight on the unloved and unlovely of his day.
Do you fit the bill? Would you make the social pages? Does it matter? Because Jesus sees you – who you really are… He gazes beyond the Armani outfit, the perfect academic score and the dream husband and family… He sees through our grasps at power, prestige and beauty and crowns us, his adopted children, with his own brand of royalty. Something more beautiful, radiant and magnificent than anything the power brokers might dictate. And something that will last forever - into eternity.