Spirituality for Today – July 2012 – Volume 16, Issue 12

There Is No "I" In Jesus: How To Be Truly Important

By Reverend Monsenior Frank C. Wissel

Most of us, probably all of us, have seen a marching band. There are trombones and trumpets, flutes and drums of various sizes and sounds. The band may include 50, 100, or more musicians. Each one plays a vital part. But the person who stands out in our memory does not play at all. He does not even carry an instrument. In his hands is a baton with which he beats time to the music. While the band marches in perfect unison, he prances and struts up front. We call this person a drum major. All eyes are on him; he is the leader of the parade.

Most of us have never been a drum major, and never will be. The truth of the matter is we really do not want to be. But we still have something in common with that man. He is the star. He is the hero. For one brief shining moment, all of the applause seems intended for him. And we enjoy that. We enjoy it and yet we envy him. It just feels good when others recognize and acknowledge our importance. Not only that, most of us need it. At least occasionally. Praise is a good tonic for the soul. It gives us a temporary lift over the low opinion we have of ourselves.

There is a Gospel reading about this very human need. It all took place at a dinner party, hosted by a wealthy Pharisee. Jesus was one of the guests. In fact, he may have been the honored guest. At least, he was a focal point of interest. All of the other guests were observing him closely. But while they were watching him, he was also watching them. What he saw was quite revealing. The guests and the host told Jesus more about themselves than they intended to tell.

The show started when the servants announced that dinner was ready. All through the crowd, there was a quiet rush for the table. Each guest tried to get ahead of the others as politely as possible. The significance of the guests was determined by their proximity to the host. Those who were seated right beside him were deemed the most important. Those at the foot of the table were the least. No one wanted to sit there. All wanted to get close— as close to the host as possible. This would enable them to appear and to feel a little bit important. Jesus recognized this need and he told his host and fellow guests how to meet it.

First, don't try to promote yourself. The worst thing about self-promotion is that it never works. Most of us have had enough experience with this that we recognize it immediately. Not only have we seen it in others, but we have done it ourselves. The techniques are well-known. One is fault-finding. If we cannot build ourselves up, at least we can pull others down to our level. Another is name-dropping. If we are on friendly terms with important people, maybe their importance will rub off on us. The problem here is that it is so obvious what we are doing. And besides, importance is not transferable. It belongs only to the person who has earned it.

A third common method of self-promotion is boasting. If no one else points out our accomplishments, it is futile for us to point them out. No conversation is less welcome or more boring than bragging. Most of us would rather listen to the details of a person's latest surgery. At least we can be sympathetic with that. The best we can work up from boasting is perhaps a little envy. But more than likely, our dominant feeling is irritation. Jesus was right. The person who exalts himself will, sooner or later, be humiliated. Self-promotion does not work.

The next words of Jesus were: Forget about looking important and concentrate on being important. The way to do this is by helping those that society deems worthless. When you have a dinner party, do not invite your rich friends. Instead, invite the beggars and cripples, the lame and the blind. According to Jesus, the good thing about helping these people is that they cannot reciprocate. Your reward can only come from God.

All of us can catch the spirit of this. Have you young people thought of eating lunch with a nerd? At recess try playing with a kid others think unworthy of their attention. Those of us who call ourselves adults also need to open up a little. How do we react when minorities move into our nice, neat community? What is our attitude when the court or the housing authority moves them in? Is our first concern for property values? If so, we are a far cry from being truly important. Our conduct is no different from people who have never heard of Christ.

Some time ago, I read a story about an old woman with two grown children. She had a son who taught high school. He, like his mother, was a Christian. She had a daughter, who was really a stepdaughter and lived in Israel. Her faith was Judaism. This unusual mix went back to World War II. Back then, this woman lived in Poland. She remembers the day when the Nazis came for the Jews. They rounded them up and loaded them on rail cars like cattle. A little Jewish girl watched as her mother was arrested. A soldier saw her and asked the Jewish woman, "Is that your child?" The mother said, "No, she belongs to her." She was pointing at the Christian woman who had been her neighbor. From that day, the little Jewish girl became a part of a Christian family. But she grew up as a Jew. The stepmother chose to rear her that way because she thought it was the kind of thing Christ would do.

What would you have done? Would you have sacrificed your plans in order to help one little Jewish girl? Most of our choices are not that dramatic.

They may be nothing more than whom we choose to befriend. But those are the little things that determine whether we are truly important. We may or may not have prestige in the eyes of others. But Jesus has the only vote that counts. And his word on the subject is this: "He that humbles himself shall be exalted." That is the true way to be important.