Dare To Be Different, Dare To Be Nice
A teenage girl wants to have her nose pierced and wear a ring in it. Her mother refuses to give permission, and the girl says, "Please, Mother, everyone is doing it." A teenage boy wants to get a tattoo. His father says, "No way." The boy says, "Please, Dad, everyone is doing it." The mother and father are likely to say, "What if everyone jumps off a cliff, do you plan to jump too?"
Of course, this struggle does not end with the teen years. All of our lives, we feel the pressure to conform to live like everyone else lives. There is a Gospel in which Jesus addresses this concern. He pointed out the typical way of living, the way that nearly everyone lives. Then he challenged his disciples to break ranks and to live life a different way. He applied this challenge to two vital areas of living.
1. How do we relate to people?
There is, of course, a standard way of dealing with our fellow human beings. If they smile at us, we smile at them. If they speak to us, we speak to them. If they invite us into their homes, then we invite them into our home. If they make it clear that they life us and want to be friends, we send the same signals to them. We have a mutual admiration society. The slogan might be, "You scratch my back, I scratch yours." My guess is that most of us respond to such persons with warmth and friendliness. But some human encounters have a totally different tone. What then?
Your next door neighbor, let us say, never speaks to you and makes it plain that he does not wish for you to speak to him. If you speak to him, he looks the other way and pretends not to hear. In every possible way, he makes it clear that he does not want your friendship. And so you finally say to yourself, "Fine, we'll play it your way. If you are rude to me, I'll be rude to you. As far as I am concerned, we can be neighbors for 25 years and never speak." If you should reach this conclusion no one would blame you, because that's the way most of us feel. Jesus challenges us to dare to be different. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you." Why should we do this? It is certainly a strange way to respond to rude people. Almost no one does it. But Jesus said we should. Why? What's the point? Are we hoping to convert that grumpy neighbor and turn him into a nice guy? That would be a happy result. But Jesus said nothing about it. He gave one reason for responding to rude people with kindness and it was that we might show ourselves to be "children of God." We are to respond that way because it is how God responds. "He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish."
2. The other area where Jesus challenged us to be different is how we deal with money.
Our culture has a well-established pattern when it comes to handling money. We spend it on ourselves. First, we make certain that all of our necessities are covered. Then, we start working on the luxuries. First, we need an apartment. Then we need a house. Then we need a larger house, then a larger house with a swimming pool.
And this pattern continues until we spend all our money on ourselves. We think little or nothing about doing this because this is what most people do. I'm sure you have seen the television program called, "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" It's a very popular program for two reasons.
One, it allows us to play along: we not only watch, we participate. Another reason we watch is that it appears to our desire to be wealthy. We fantasize about what it would be like to become a millionaire. And the question always is, "What would you do with the money?" Some answers are: "I'm going to travel;" "I'm going to pay my debts," "I'm going to use it for my children's education;" "I'm going to buy a new car;" "I'm going to buy a new house."
But to my knowledge, no one has ever yet said, "I plan to use part of this money to feed hungry children." Jesus, in a Gospel lesson, said some strange things about money. "When a man takes what is yours, do not demand it back." He also says, "Lend without expecting repayments." Many times Jesus spoke in strong language and exaggerated what he was trying to teach. What he meant is that we should use money for the benefit of others. There are many generous people who care for the neediest of the needy. Jesus tells us, "The poor you will always have with you." Perhaps that is true to remind us of our mission to be givers.
The late Paul Newman, for a generation, had been one of the most popular actors in the world. As such he became a very wealthy man. As you know, in his later years he started a company that makes and distributes salad dressing and other food products. Every penny of profit from this company goes to benefit underprivileged children. Once, a reporter asked Newman why he gave always all that money. His reply was classic. He said, "Why not? I don't need it." He dared to be different. We are challenged to do the same and to be different.