Monday, January 28, 2013
Am I Important?
This past week has been one of some difficulty for me, as my mother seems to have slipped in her health, and care for her has become more difficult. With her increased pains and discomfort, I found myself questioning my efforts: “Am I important? Am I doing the right things?” And in general, feeling a bit sad --- I wondered if I couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing more. And so I have a doctor coming out to evaluate mom. But while taking care of mom, I also need to take care of myself. Sometimes self-evaluation is a good thing.
This past week, God was not missing in action. It seems that when I need Him more, He is there more, in various ways. I had been reflecting all week on the readings in the Office, from Deuteronomy. They were the words of Moses, speaking to his people. They were kindly words, like a father speaking to his children (or a grandfather, since Moses was around 100 at the time). A couple of things struck me about the words. First, that Moses had to remind them what God had done for them --- duh! After the huge miracles they had seen, how could they forget? But they did, or at least they seemed to as they went on to worship some strange god. I don’t think the Jews really forgot what God had done for them; rather I think they didn’t know the God who had done these great miracles. So, when they had the chance, they gave praise to god, a god they knew and had worshipped before --- in the image of a golden calf. To some degree, I could understand their confusion.
A second thing I noticed was that when God got angry at the Jew’s action, Moses talked to Him and convinced Him not to destroy them. And I guess I noticed an (A) and a (B) to this point also: (A)Why did God listen to Moses? He’s God, and can see the future; He knew He would or wouldn’t punish the Jews, so why this appearance of changing His mind --- and the false importance of Moses, “the man who could convince God of something.” I know Moses didn’t convince God of anything, so why the appearance? I think I saw a problem in this because I was looking at the verbal exchange with God from Moses point of view, and it seemed to make him too important. But, I think, from God’s point of view, it was a different conversation.
God saw Moses and the Jews as His children, children He loved. Like our earthly father, God had plans for Moses and the Jews, and when they freely chose to pursue other plans, God was disappointed, as our earthly father might be if he wanted us to be, say a doctor, but we chose to be a truck driver. A loving earthly father might speak to his child: “Well, I think a doctor is who I brought you up to be, but if you wish to be a truck driver, let’s talk about how we can make you the best truck driver you can be.” A loving father respects his children’s freedom, and if he sees no harm the earthly father agrees to respect the child’s choices. That’s the kind of conversation God was having with Moses, like a loving Father would have. And Moses was acting like any earthly child would: if it didn’t seem like he was convincing “dad” of his argument, he switched to Plan B.
And (B) was the other unique thing about Moses conversation with God: He spoke to God of God’s history with the Jewish people, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, but then he spoke to God about the Gentiles, the Egyptians. He told God: Don’t destroy Your people “lest the (Egyptians) say: ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land He promised them.’” Moses was arguing that God should be worrying about what other people might think, worrying about His image! That sounded like a public relations argument to God, and I don’t think Moses really understood the importance of what He had said, but God did. Moses saw God punish the Egyptians and thought God hated them, but God didn’t. Moses didn’t appreciate that God loves all His children, even the ones that don’t always obey Him, even the ones that don’t even know Him. That is what a loving Father does. It wouldn’t be until Jesus came along and imaged and explained all this to the Jews --- and the world --- that they would know this about God: He is Our Father. We are all important to Him.
I saw those things in the readings from Deuteronomy, and I thought it fit the image I often use to describe the Creator God: His creation is like a giant picture, and we all play a key role in the painting. And so, like He spoke to Moses --- and listened to Him --- so He speaks to us, and listens to our prayers. We are each important in His picture of all creation. But then yesterday, Sunday, I was reminded of a deeper truth, as explained by Jesus. Not only are we each important to God, but we each are important to each other. That’s why the commandment to Love Your Neighbor is right up there with Love God; your neighbor is critically important. The Scripture readings yesterday spoke of the Body of Christ, and how we are all part of a spiritual body, with Christ as the head. We are all different with different purposes, but all important --- and necessary to and responsible to each other.
A body without two legs doesn’t run as well as one that has two legs. One leg is important, but then so is the other. And further, if one leg were exercised and strengthened (physically or spiritually) and the other leg ignored, the benefits of the one’s training will not be fully realized: If one leg ran strongly but the other weak one had to be dragged along, the body won’t move as fast as if each were strengthened, or even if one is strengthened less, so the other can be stronger. Therefore, our prayers should not be to “make me happy or make me holy”, they should be to “make me as happy or holy as I should be.” It doesn’t do us good to try to run the race alone, because we are NOT alone in the Body of Christ. We’re in the body together. We are ALL important. That statement is a subtle but important change from what I saw being taught in Deuteronomy, where I saw God saying we are EACH important. It didn’t come across to me there the importance of the fact that God loves me --- we each are important, but God also loves YOU --- we are all important. That is a key teaching of Jesus Christ: “For God so loved man (all men) that He gave His only begotten Son…”
I think the Scripture readings this week were a great reminder to people. To the people who would ask: “Am I important? Am I happy?” God responds: “Yes, you are important. Yes, I want to help make you happy.” But He further explains: “We’ll do this together.” There is a big picture of creation all right, made in perfection, the perfect plan. But within it is man, a totally unique being, made in His image, and uniquely loved --- and individually loved. But man is so unique and so loved, he is literally painted, designed, created, to be one with God --- the ultimate in uniqueness, the ultimate in importance, the ultimate in loving and being loved. We are meant to be as One.
We are part of the picture of creation I often talk about alright; we are the centerpiece. What I sometimes find sad in these times is how many people, individually, think they are the centerpiece. We even teach kids in school how important they are, their little wishes and their little accomplishments --- or even their little bit of trying to accomplish something. We so want to build up the self-image of kids, when that is not really the predominant problem in our culture. As is so prominently displayed in our country, narcissism is the growing problem: a recognized illness that so many people seem to deem as something good to catch. We confuse self-worth (we are all created in the image of God and important – together) with a distorted ego-centric, self-image (I am important).
Am I important? The correct question is: Are WE important? When we can properly answer that question, then we can begin to answer the questions about abortion, about how to love the poor, and about how to look at our own importance. And how to find true, eternal happiness.