I consider myself to be rather independent thinking. Not totally swept up in what’s popular. Not desperately looking for others approval. I consider myself to be beyond that. And I have proven myself wrong almost every day of my life…
I still have vivid memories of all the school cafeterias I ever ate in as a child, particularly middle and high school. It was kind of like the stock exchange of the self-worth economy. Social orders and classes being laid out along such clear and distinct lines. It always made the first day of school so stressful. Filled with questions like, “Do any of my cool friends have this lunch period or am I gonna have to sit with my awkward friends from band?” I can still remember where my group sat and where certain other groups sat. I remember times when I left one group to join another that was “higher” on the social ladder, even though I enjoyed the company of my other friends better. I remember doing and saying things that I knew were cruel or petty in order to maintain or advance my standing in the social stratosphere. I remember hurting others. I remember being hurt.
I don’t think we realized what we were doing back then. We were trading self-worth like currency. We were social capitalists. We held in our hands the hearts and souls of real people and we elevated and crushed them in whatever ways we needed to, just to move up one more rung on the ladder. Every single one of us terrified of being rejected and alone.
Like I said earlier, I consider myself to be beyond that stuff now. I think all adults feel that way, mostly because we’ve found more subtle and respectable ways to do the exact same thing. We still distance ourselves from some people and pursue others. We still move in and out of social circles, leaving hurt feelings and good friendships behind. We still act differently around “cool” people because, for some reason, we really, really want them to like us. We still do all of the same exchanges that we did in the lunchroom. The major difference is that we don’t have to sit in the same room and risk crossing glances with those we’ve hurt.
And while we’re busy buying and selling self-worth and consuming our thoughts with how to advance our own social standing, we forget that God came to earth and pulled up a chair at the reject table.
In the first century world, who you chose to share meals with was a direct indicator of your social standing and even your spiritual devotion. And Jesus regularly sat down at the table with prostitutes, tax-collectors (who at the time were just government-sanctioned extortionists) and the lowest of the low. And what goes even farther than that is that they liked him. He didn’t relate to them in some condescending, self-righteous way that showed that he was so awesome that he would even share a meal with wretched human beings like them. He generally valued them…their company…their presence. And by doing so he flipped the entire social order upside down.
And no matter how far I “consider” myself to have come, I still find myself light years from having that kind of heart. From feeling so secure that I don’t have to gain self-worth by comparison to, or association with, others. From being able to value other people because they are made in the image of God and not because of what they can do for me. I still have so much selfishness and pride in me. It can be really discouraging to realize that you still have so far to go. Sometimes I begin to feel completely defeated by all the junk that still resides in the depth of my heart, but then… Jesus pulls up a chair and eats with me too.