Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. James 3:13
What might happen if we focused on ensuring that all we do is “done with gentleness born of wisdom”? Perhaps more people would be vaccinated because it wouldn’t be a question of politics or faith so much as a necessity of caring for our children and our neighbors. Perhaps there would be more peace in the world because we wouldn’t be worried about being “better than” or “good enough” as much as we would focus on loving ourselves and our neighbors and taking care of the most vulnerable among us. The world would be different; the Golden Rule would be embodied.
Long ago, on a walk from Galilee to Capernaum Jesus’ disciples argued amongst themselves. They wanted to determine who was the best among them. The best at following Jesus? The best miracle worker? The best teacher? The one Jesus loved most? Who knows? It was a rather childish response to Jesus telling them how he would die and rise again which they did not understand. I still wonder what their measure of greatness was. I’m guessing it wasn’t anything terribly deep because Jesus response was to tell them that the one who wants to be first must be last and server everyone in the process. The disciples needed to assess themselves on an entirely new standard. The world measures “greatness” differently than God does. It was true then and it remains true today.
The disciples had as much difficulty grasping this reality as we do. Jesus tried to get them to understand by holding up a child as an example of a person of great value. This was contrary to the way children were viewed. They were laborers. They were potential. They were the future. However, until they grew to adulthood, children didn’t really have a place in society. Jesus lifted them up as human beings with innate value. To welcome a child is to welcome God. This was a radical statement and one that we still haven’t quite grasped.
We still worry far too much about being better than others, having the most, being the best. How much time do we spend thinking about what will benefit our neighbors or what is for the greater good? Or, even more importantly, how we can use our gifts in a way that makes the world a better place? Probably far less time than we spend worrying about our place in the world compared to those around us. What would change for each of and for the congregations we are part of if we truly accepted that we are all that child Jesus held up that day. We are all the one, who when welcomed is also God welcomed.
Every single one of us has value as God’s beloved. It does not matter who we are, what we do, what we have, what we don’t do, the good we’ve done, the harm we’ve wrought. God loves and claims us all as beloved. We all have value right now, as we are – broken or whole or somewhere in between. Queer, straight, cis, Trans*, rich, poor, healthy, sick, black, white, brown, red, yellow, educated, uneducated, smart, intellectually impaired, wise, foolish, temporarily able-bodied, disabled, mentally healthy, mentally ill, and all the other unique and wonderful combination of things that make us human. We have a place in the Kingdom. We are called to be Kingdom-builders, all of us – each doing their individual part connected to the whole.
We are intimately connected one to another. What I say and do or don’t say or don’t do has an impact on my neighbors. What I value and what I neglect affects those around me. It’s true for your as well. Not every little thing, of course. I’m talking about the choices we make about how we use the resources available to us and the gifts we possess. It comes back to asking if we are living lives shaped by gentleness born in wisdom or are we seeking only to serve ourselves. This doesn’t mean we don’t take care of ourselves. Quite the opposite. This means we take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can so that we can offer our best selves in service to others, thereby taking our place in the world and in building the Kin(g)dom.
Let’s all take a breath and realize that unless we accept our value as God’s beloved it is nearly impossible to recognize the value of all others. No one is without value, without place. Maybe we can begin to treat ourselves and all our neighbors accordingly.
For other posts on these texts see The Truth about Greatness from 2018, Charged with Welcome from 2015, and Food, Finances, and Foolishness from 2012.