Posted by: 15shekels | January 13, 2014

Ordinary People

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…[So] our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love….Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” -Mark 2:16

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed….” -Luke 14:13

ImageI call them the sparkly people. The men and women in every crowd who glitter with humor, beauty, charm, and talent. They are little suns who pull people into their orbits, and I have a particular weakness for trying to get close to them and absorb some of their light. I have been Nick Carraway with Jay Gatsby, Jack Burden with Willie Stark. There is certainly nothing wrong with sparkly people in themselves, although they are often poor friends. The problem lies in the inverse phenomenon. In chasing after the suns alit with earthly glory, we fail to notice the quiet immortals sitting in the corners or outside the door, glowing with a heavenly light that may one day burn our eyes.

There is nothing quite as convicting as reading the promises of Scripture (such as God telling Israel—and by extension His followers today—”I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” in Isaiah 49:15-16) and realizing that he is talking about the acquaintance whom I find annoying, the homeless man whom I avoid out of discomfort, the political figure whom it is easy to mock. How ashamed I would feel if God gave me His eyes for a day, and revealed to me how I have been treating His precious and beloved—the saints and the lost sheep whom God was delighted to knit together, and for whom He planned to die before He created the world. I walk right past them on the city streets.

Sparkly people tend to keep their misfortunes and messiness hidden away, presenting a lighthearted and fun persona to the world. Spending time with them rarely involves uncomfortable conversations about their problems. In contrast, I have often experienced the temptation to distance myself from those in trouble rather than moving closer to help. I momentarily believe several lies: that I earned my comfort and security, that I couldn’t be in their shoes in a moment, that God’s heart isn’t breaking for them.

And then one thought of Jesus shatters those lies. First, I realize that earthly status and security do not correlate with heavenly status and security. I realize that the comfort I experience draws me further from God as I settle into a sense of self reliance, and that as a result I am in many ways in a far more dangerous position than those who suffer. I realize that the only real security is attained through no power or effort of my own, but from admitting my weakness and asking for help. And finally, I remember that the only one who was truly insulated and comfortable—the Prince of Peace who was sitting on the throne of heaven, the sparkliest!—chose to be born as a poor, vulnerable, baby who would be hated, mocked, and killed in a brutal and violent manner. And I claim to “follow” Him.

ImageChrist “made himself nothing” (Phil. 2:7) to take on the sufferings we deserved. He spent time with the least attractive, respectable, people: corrupt political traitors, women in the sex industry, people with infectious diseases. He saw past earthly status into their precious and valuable souls. So rather than striving to befriend the charming and the beautiful, rather than striving to climb a ladder of status, wealth, security, or fame, we are called to fall to the back of the line, to give to others until we hurt, to befriend the lost and the lonely who may have nothing to offer us. We are called not to the suns, but to the Son who will lead us into the darkness (before later leading us into real glory).

And so I hang my head and ask for the ability to see others with His eyes. Because I realize that on one particularly important day 2000 years ago, I probably would have been drawn into the sparkly orbits of Herod, of the Pharisees, of whichever member of the crowd was crying “Crucify Him!” to the loudest cheers. I would have completely missed the King of the Universe hiding inside the poor, hated carpenter hanging on the cross.

“…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” -Isaiah 53:2-3

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