THE FACE IN THE MIRROR

 

Dear Jesus,

Over the years I have learned to be careful when I breathe a sigh of relief when reading some you said and quickly conclude that what you say applies to others and not to me.

Right now I am feeling fairly confident that I don’t have any of those attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees, attitudes that you so clearly denounce.  I am just a humble guy who doesn’t even wear phylacteries or tassels.  Well, sometimes I used to get deferential treatment when I was invited out to dinner and I wore my clerical garb.  But surely I don’t have an attitude that would suggest the expectation of that kind of treatment.

Reflecting on where I am and on what I have, I always remember to give thanks to God when I pray.  Now and then I give some of what I have to the poor.  You might say I had a degree of authority, but I hope no one would ever have said that I lorded it over anyone.  I always remember to be thankful to God’s providence for what I was able to achieve.

Writing these words, I begin to feel that old unease that creeps in whenever I allow myself to think I am doing a good job.  I may think of the job as being well done until I compare what I did to what you do.  I always fall short.

My name, Didymus, means twin.  But whose twin am I?  My prayer, of course, is that someday I could be like you, enough to be your twin. If I could look into the mirror and see your face, then I would be at peace.

I was blessed to have been born into comparative security.  I’ve never thought of myself as wealthy, but I am comfortable as a citizen of a First World country.  But I hasten to add that I am no more comfortable than the people with whom I associate.  I am not exactly class conscious, other than when I feel a twinge of envy of those who have a lot of disposable income.  Not to be redundant, but I do try to thank God that I am not as poor as some people I have heard about.  Thank God, I have a place of warmth and shelter.

I am grateful that I have a beautiful place to go to and in which to gather with my friends to pray.  We always remember to pray for the poor.  Sometimes we contribute to collections for their needs.  Of course we don’t expect them to gather with us where we are.  They would be uncomfortable among us and would probably be self-conscious of their difference from us.  Some have said that worship spaces and gatherings like ours give others something to aspire for.  All the more reason for us to support places where they gather, don’t you think?

Please tell me you don’t expect more than this.  Because, if you do, a lot more people are going to leave you for someone or something with more reasonable expectations.  Do you realize how many more influential people would be willing to follow you if you promised prosperity?  Do you know how many people would be delighted to hear that God wills us to be wealthy?  That is the only reason I wear those splendid new brocaded vestments and lacey albs.  It’s meant to be a sign.

I wish you could do something now to ease my anxieties.  It would be comforting to hear that I am doing just fine.  I am serious about wanting to be your disciple among a people exercising discipleship.  My trouble is always with the practical application of your teachings.  What can I do about this?

Am I heading down a slippery slope if I allow myself to wonder what it would mean to actually be a servant of the rest, of those poor ones who keep themselves at arms length and gather in places where they are not so confronted by their powerlessness?  What would I have to do to make them feel included?  If I did that, would my perspective change, as suddenly I would have to face my own vulnerability and real poverty?

I remember a poor man I befriended.  Actually, he appeared at my doorstep, asking for help.  He was mentally compromised and not terribly refined.  He had a way of saying inappropriate things.  Sometimes he heard voices.  Sometimes he didn’t take his medications.  He would act erratically and make others uncomfortable.  He stayed in the shed and over time he began to think of me as a friend.  He trusted me.  That became a burden that consumed both time and energy.  Already I had a multitude of responsibilities.  He was one more.  Others complained because of the pressures he put on them.  He drank alcohol and used drugs.  Sometimes he made them feel threatened.  Then there was the question of his odor.  They said he should go someplace else where he would be more welcomed.

They were right, I suppose.  He felt the chill and so disappeared from our community.  Then he was arrested for trespassing.  He called me from jail and asked why we had turned against him.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that he was too much of a burden, or that I was embarrassed by his behavior.  I couldn’t tell him that the way he dressed just didn’t fit in with the styles worn by the others in the community.  How could I have told him he should have showered more often?  I couldn’t let him use our showers, could I?  So, as bad as I felt for him, I couldn’t give him an answer that would leave him with any sense of personal dignity.

It will be hard to sleep tonight.  Over and over in my mind I ask myself how we are supposed to live practically and at the same time be the kind of people you would have us be.  I look in the mirror and wonder if I am becoming what you describe as pharisaical.

Something isn’t right.  That becomes all the more glaring when I reflect on those with whom you practiced Table Fellowship.  I can’t ever remember being criticized for those with whom I dine, or even for those with whom I gathered d around your Table.

There is a gnawing inside me, an idea that is trying to break through to my consciousness.  I don’t think I can deal with that right now.  I have a homily to prepare.

I might fall asleep tonight wondering if some of those with whom I keep company and some of those with whom I break bread should outrage others among regulars.  Please help me.  Could you get back to me about all this?  Some time when I have more time to listen.  I want to be comfortable again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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