Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Let's be realistic

When I was in high school, trying to find a philosophy of life, I took a political science class at the University of Hawaii. The instructor introduced us to the philosophy of "Baba Ram Dass," and I read his book The Only Dance There Is. The idea of being at peace with the world was very appealing, but something about it rang false. The path to peace, according to this book, was to abandon all desire. Now some desires should be abandoned, but to abandon all of them? If anyone actually did that, who could live with him? I mean, if your husband or wife didn't desire anything -- didn't desire intercourse (social or sexual) with you -- what kind of life would that be? If you had a friend who you could never make happy (because s/he didn't want anything), what kind of friendship would that be? I decided at some point that the goal of becoming completely detached was both unrealistic and undesirable. Life is to be lived and enjoyed, not to be entirely detached from!

In contrast, the Bible is refreshingly down-to-earth it is. Take for example this morning's reading from Luke:
8"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Luke 14:8-11
Now some religions or philosophies of life might tell you to abandon the desire to be "honored in the presence of all your fellow guests." Come to think of it, I might tell you that, too. But not Jesus. He recognizes that enjoying such things is part of how we were made. And really, it's a good thing to be enjoyed, like a good meal.

What Jesus teaches us, both by his words and by his example, is the path to getting that good thing, that the way to be "honored in the presence of all your fellow guests" is not to seek it directly, but to humble yourself.

Taking Jesus's remark literally, it appears to be a cagey way to look good. But there's more to it than that.

Because when Jesus came to earth, he lived this out. He took a place of dishonor -- there was no greater dishonor than death by crucifixion -- and, as Paul will tell us later, Jesus was exalted to the highest place.

What a great thing -- to know that our Lord took the place of greatest dishonor for us, and to know that He has a realistic view of us. So you and I can be completely open with him; we needn't and shouldn't pretend to be other than we are, because it is OK with him that we are who we are. And that's good news.

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