The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Part 11

Royal_Albert_Hall_-_Central_View_169.jpg

Quest of the Inner Ring.

The ten were indignant. They were incensed. They had heard the presumptuous request of James and John claiming first rights as the highest ministers in Jesus’ new sovereign state that they had envisioned. A hubbub of low murmurs was growing into exclamations of disbelief as one by one the other disciples heard of the audacity of their two fellow apprentices. They were disgruntled because of the ‘Inner Ring.’

C.S. Lewis talks about the phenomenon of the Inner Ring as an unwritten system determining who is inside and who is outside of an exclusive group. This quest to be part of an inner group of any type—whether of money-laundering drug lords or of trend-setting coffee shop dabblers—attracts each of us.

“I believe that in all (people)’s lives at certain periods,” explains Lewis, “and in many (people)’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

What is wrong with that?” we may ask. Aren’t Inner Rings natural groupings of like-minded people? Lewis gives two reasons why the quest—the unbridled passion— for the Inner Ring destroys all who follow it. Firstly, he says, “ Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.” Secondly, he adds, “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want…The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.”

This was the situation facing Jesus as He saw His disciples break into bitter complaints over the blunt request of James and John to be in Jesus’ Inner Ring. Jesus saw the pride and selfishness that plagues humanity erupt in all twelve of His disciples—each of them willing to sacrifice all to enter that elusive and exclusive camaraderie with power. He could see into the future where each of the twelve would have spiralled into solitary self-absorbed chiefs grasping for their version of desired dominance, all in Jesus’ name.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Jesus is showing His disciples, and all of us who attend to His words, that the desire to be “great”—to be in the only truly significant Inner Ring—is the best good a person can pursue. But here the similarity to all other Inner Rings and all other artifices of greatness disappears. This Inner Ring can only be entered by loving. Loving, explains Jesus, is the motivating force behind this quest, and serving others is the external outworking of that love. Jesus gives Himself as the prime example of One whose eternal greatness is revealed by His serving heart, by actions which would culminate in giving his life “as a ransom for many” out of sheer love.

We must love by serving others. Our serving is not to be out of mercenary interest but out of the greatest of loves existing in this universe: out of God’s love for us. This is the great purpose for which God created us in His image, to be individuals eternally expanding as co-operators with the expansive love of God. God’s love for us, in us, and through us becomes the identity with which we are known. We become lovers (not in the shallow, amorous, illicit sense—but in the deep, compassionate, self-sacrificing sense) of others. It is the natural outflowing of God’s love.

What Inner Rings do we pursue? Jesus is calling you and me to see them for what they really are: poor replacements for the one true relationship for which we are made. Child of God, come to the One who loves you as you are, then go out and serve others so they can come home to Him too. The quest for this Inner Ring is your calling.

(Photo Credit: By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51964834)

Advertisements

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 18

On Becoming Great.

“Unless you change…” began the speaker in ‘TEDx’ style, “you will never enter…” He had caught his listeners’ attention. The murmuring had stopped and mouths had gone dry. The group had been discussing strategies for becoming uniquely, individually great. How could they achieve not only their personal best, they debated, but actually rise to the top, stand on the pinnacle of the new dominion, become the greatest?

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus bluntly pointed out, as recorded in Matthew chapter 18. In other words, continue clawing and grasping for power and you won’t even be a part of My kingdom, never mind great in it. His followers’ position in the kingdom of heaven was not at stake—their entrance was.

Looking into the stunned faces of His followers, I’m sure Jesus felt compassion for them in their stumbling progress; it was only human nature for them to follow the promptings of pride, the psyche of superiority, the inclination to put oneself first. They really had no idea what He meant by saying they must become like little children. He would have to spell it out more clearly.

“Whoever humbles himself like this child,” He explained, drawing a toddler toward Him, “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Humbles himself. It wasn’t a new idea. His followers had been versed in the Law and the Prophets since their own childhood. They had memorized the prophet Micah’s instruction to, “act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Surely the prophet had not meant the humiliation of childishness, though, had he?

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me,” Jesus continued. “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

It was going from bad to worse. First, they would have no part in His kingdom. Now, they were good for nothing but Davey Jones’ locker. What did it all mean?

Jesus was saying that simple faith in God is not just best practice; it is only practice in God’s kingdom. Unless a person humbles and entrusts herself or himself unreservedly to God’s plans, as a child would her father, there is no spiritual heart beating beneath the physical exterior.

“BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS:” begins a telegram sent to the Walker children by their father in the 1930s fictional series, Swallows and Amazons. “IF NOT DUFFERS WON”T DROWN.” In other words, if you act with pride and its consequent foolishness, you really deserve the consequences of which you find yourself victim.

Pride says, “I’m in charge of me”, “it’s my life; I’ll do with it as I please”, and makes other similar claims. In contrast, childlike humility toward God says, “You are in charge of me”, “I will follow Your lead”, and the person lives by that premise. The two attitudes are worlds apart. In fact, Jesus is saying that we all have a natural bent toward the former attitude: we don’t want to be like children, having to trust another for the good times we envision our lives ought to contain. When we come of age, our tendency is to slough off the mantle of childlike faith we once had that believed in a good and loving Creator. Remember those days?

Jesus is giving a warning: Eternity with God, believe it or not, is real. Take it or leave it, but we had better not imagine we can make up the rules. We cannot experience true greatness without first submitting ourselves to the process that changes great duffers into child-hearted believers. It is a process. Child-hearts occasionally revert to duffer-blundering galoots. The great thing is to say to Jesus, “I’m sorry”, and “make me like You.”—true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. That is Christ-like greatness.

And the great thing is that God is a Father unlike any other. He enfolds past-duffers into His great family in an embrace that turns them into children that reflect their Father’s greatness more than ever before. Let’s leave the life of a duffer behind. Together let’s become children on the journey that takes us great places.

(Photo Credit: By USAID – USAID, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10485032; CC BY-SA 3.0; 862878;By en:User:Steevven1 – URL: http://www.keysphotography.com/photopages/2007-03-04.php, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1746173)