Copyright ©2019 by The Good Elder. All rights reserved.
One of the hallmarks of today's society is constant (and sometimes ruthless) competition and unconscious judgment. Most people, due to their lack of awareness, or due to their own unhappiness, are driven to compete or judge others at the expense of family, friendships, happiness, and self actualization. Lost in the habit of external comparison, we often miss opportunities to grow and change because we are content to simply judge ourselves to be better than another, losing sight of the obligation to become who we came here to be.
As I considered this sad state of affairs, the following message came forth from those moments of contemplation.
There are some people in the world who walk around in average looking (or worse) clothes, seeming to mix in inconspicuously with the bustling public but they have money, or are highly educated, or hold a position of influence. The late Steve Jobs comes to mind as an example.
In our present-day society, we have been acculturated by the media and by those who define themselves by external acquisitions and material possessions to "flaunt it if you got it", even though material things are ephemeral and fade. Even in impoverished communities, wearing name-brand clothes and shoes, wearing a certain amount or type of jewelry, or driving a certain type of car or carrying a purse with a certain name on it makes people feel good about themselves.
I have nothing against nice things, as some of my possessions are name-brand and I hope to own and drive an expensive car in the not-too-distant future! But, the tendency to use such things as an accurate metric of our human value, our the tendency to compare ourselves to others, particularly to what we have or don't have, can quickly derail, even sabotage our spiritual growth. It can get to the point where we overlook or disregard people who have a different name from us, or who don't have what we consider to be good enough things, or who have a different personality, different sensibilities, etc.; having disregarded them, not for what we know about their true humanity, but based solely on a quick external assessment or a few material possessions.
While our habit of comparison sucks us into that insidious game of judgment, we often lose sight of the fact that, in these and other situations, we are being presented with opportunities for introspection and spiritual growth. Sadly, in most cases, we are missing these opportunities!
Our anchoring scripture presents us with a scene where Jesus and his disciples were enjoying a festive meal when they were joined by a woman (some say Mary) who anointed his feet. Simon (Peter) seemed fixated on the fact that she, apparently known among the group, was a sinner. "If he was a prophet, he would know that she was a sinner, and he wouldn't let her touch him." They overlooked the fact that she carried an alabaster box with ointment, both items that would have required a certain wealth and standing in the community; but all she was to them was a sinner.
Jesus went on to lovingly correct him, not ignoring whatever sin she may have done, but also not reducing her to it, either. "In some ways, she's served me better than you, and you're my boy!"
Let us raise a couple of other examples that help us to see how this tendency can manifest in other contexts. First, in Numbers 11, we see Joshua, eventual leader of Israel, coming to Moses when the spirit of God had spilled over beyond the 70 Elders. Joshua, as well intentioned as he probably was, though that Eldad and Medad were doing something inappropriate, things perhaps that he had only seen Moses do. When Joshua came to Moses, Moses let Joshua know, "Don't envy them for my sake. I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!"
In other words, Joshua, there is enough God to go around! I know that I am not God, nor is His presence and power exclusive to me. I want everyone to know and experience God as I do! My experience of God is not diminished because of someone else's experience!
Let us also consider Kings Hezekiah, David, and Rehoboam (search the scriptures). When the prophet of God came with a spiritual message (albeit unpleasant), we laud how David and Hezekiah received those messages as opportunities, while Rehoboam and his folks saw Amos as a nuisance. David and Hezekiah are still revered today, while Rehoboam's ignoring of the Word of God was the beginning of the inevitable, devastating, and ongoing scattering of Israel.
The concept that compels me today is that of inappropriate fixation, especially on trivial matters. Fixation draws attention, but what do we do about what we see?
Certainly, if we lay out a nice tablecloth, and we discover a small stain on that tablecloth, we seek to clean or at least hide that stain. It would be a waste to have to throw the whole thing away if we could clean that one blemish. And yet, when we see such things in others, relatively small blemishes in an otherwise viable and valuable human being, we often fixate on the sin and reduce the person's value to that sin.
Others are mirrors to ourselves. What we see in others, exists within us. To the degree that it upsets or troubles us to see in another is the degree that it burdens, embarrasses, or troubles us. When we recognize this dynamic, we can engage in the introspection required to see, understand, and remedy the shortcoming that troubles us so.
Because we are conditioned to see others as "an other", we perceive no connection, and thus, we miss the opportunity to grow.
Certainly, sin is a misstep (literally, "missing the mark"), a shortcoming to be refined if we are to reach the "Promised Land"; but (in religious circles in particular), sin has become a bad word used to ostracize or vilify another. In most of our interactions, we skip over the exhortation of the Psalmist (139:23-24). The point of it all is to learn and grow and experience God for ourselves, not to vilify or judge others, or set ourselves above others.
In the name of "getting by" in life, some are content to simply be better than another, but not as good as our own best.
Yet, when it comes time for God to hand out blessings, or to give us our reward in the hereafter, God will not interrogate us like spies. "What dirt do you have on everyone else?" God will ask, "When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When you were shown that you had deviated from the Way, did you scramble to get back on track?" "Did you work to become your best self?"
As Moses' example teaches us, we all are striving to achieve the same sublime level of consciousness, that same degree of conscious connection with God, that same intensity of bonding where we feel content and satisfied that all of our needs are (or can be) met by our Creator. Only when operating from a sense of lack or scarcity does this sense of one-upman-ship seem to come out. Only from this place of perceived scarcity do we take pleasure in the fall of another. Presumably, another's loss or fall leaves us positioned better--but only if this lack or scarcity was actually true and not just an artificially manufactured perspective.
You see, there is no scarcity of God's love, God's presence, God's mercy, or God's power. We perceive little because we have not developed the capacity to see more, nor refined our vehicle to contain more. So, we, conditioned by society's program to "divide and conquer", fight each other, like children for the perceived little bit that's there.
But, if we realized that we, and not our fellowman, hold the key to us having more access to His presence and power, we would see the folly in fighting each other. We would understand that no one could keep us from getting our own fill of God. We would see that the only impediment to us enjoying a heightened state of blessedness is our own selves!
When we walk by mirrors at home, we see another image; it is not us, but an image of us. It is not someone dressed in the same clothes or inhabiting a similar body; it is an image of us. If we see a speck on our clothes, or a hair out of place, do we reach out to the mirror to fix it, or do we reach to our own selves to remedy the problem?
Let's stop missing opportunities, see them for what they are, and ask God to "lead us in the way everlasting."