Sunday, December 9, 2007

Don't Be Shady

We are called to be children - sort of.

Today's gospel reading from the Coptic lectionary was Mark 9:33-40. The disciples were "disputing among themselves" over who would be the greatest.
33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

One would think that, from this passage (and others) that Christians are called to be exactly like children. But, a reading from Augustine's Confessions reveals that children are not so perfect either:

Afterwards I began to laugh,--at first in sleep, then when waking. For this I have heard mentioned of myself, and I believe it (though I cannot remember it), for we see the same in other infants. And now little by little I realized where I was, and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not; for my wants were within me, while they were without, and could not by any faculty of theirs enter into my soul. So I cast about limbs and voice, making the few and feeble signs I could, like, though indeed not much like, unto what I wished; and when I was not satisfied--either not being understood, or because it would have been injurious to me--I grew indignant that my eiders were not subject unto me, and that those on whom I had no claim did not wait on me, and avenged myself on them by tears. That infants are such I have been able to learn by watching them; and they, though unknowing, have better shown me that I was such an one than my nurses who knew it.

Book I, Ch. 5.

In other words, as we know, children are not the angelic cherubs people often idealize them to be. Rather, they get quite nasty when they can't have what they want. This can't be what Jesus meant.

We are called not be sneaky and conniving. The reference to children was made in the context of a power struggle. Even when the church was so small, its few prominent members were already bickering and playing power games. Pity.

I think the point for us is this: As we grow older, it is natural to run into more and more shadiness, games, sneakiness and power-playing. The temptation is to get pulled in, to connive, form alliances, trade gossip. You know, to "get along".

But, these are always short-term strategies that never lead to happiness but require a person to be constantly on edge in order to maintain them. Today's friend is tomorrow's enemy.

It has been said that people, at base, are motivated by either fear or greed. So, I submit that the one who can, by God's grace, rise above this "natural" course of things and live as a woman or man of integrity will not only please God and glorify Him, but will rise and stand out in the eyes of other people. In the long run, when people are afraid and need someone they can truly trust, they turn to people of integrity.

"Wait on the Lord," says the Psalmist (27:14). Patience, consistency, and integrity, over the long-haul are rewarded.

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