This may shock you, since I’m a woman and it’s supposed to be inherent in my DNA, but I am not much of a shopper. I’m a get-in-there-and-get-what-I-need kind of girl. I don’t like to browse or “just see” what’s hanging on the racks. I’m not too hip on trends or fashion. Malls and crowds aren’t really my thing. Unless it’s an antique mall. Then I could spend hours scanning the Strawberry Shortcake lunch boxes and Raggedy Ann dolls, reminiscing about my childhood. Discarded trinkets and history’s hand-me-downs line shelves and fill the corners of my mind with memories and stories of possibilities. I’m also prone to spending hours perusing the aisles in bookstores and places that sell vinyl. But that’s an addiction, er, necessity, so let’s not talk about that. Ahem…
The other day I was knee-deep in Matthew 11, where John the Baptist questions whether Jesus was the Messiah. In typical fashion, Jesus uses the moment (after John’s disciples left with their answer) to teach the crowd. He holds up a mirror to the listeners and compares them to the fickle, game-playing children of the marketplace.
Side note: Lots of stuff happened in the marketplace. Everything from people selling their wares to social gatherings to day laborers waiting for work. And, of course, kids playing games.
Kids who whine and stick their fingers in their ears when things don’t go their way. Children who expect people to dance when they play wedding songs, and to mourn when they play funeral songs. These narrow-minded, demanding “children” are the kinds of people who scoffed at John the Baptist’s asceticism and Jesus’ relationships with tax collectors and other sinful people, including, gasp, women! People who wear the frown of dissatisfaction and self-righteousness like a badge of courage. Pharisees in a Prada halo.
After reading that portion of scripture, I prayed, Lord, help me not be like a marketplace child, expecting people to conform to my way of thinking.
I kept thinking also of that word “games” Jesus used when he referred to the marketplace children. Kids games can be quite fun. I can remember spending hours playing Chutes and Ladders and Hungry-Hungry Hippos. Even when I lost, I walked away from the table feeling triumphant because I had been a part of something bigger than myself. In those moments around the tiger oak table, my family built memories that I cherish. I was safe and free to be me. On the playground, though, it was a different game. It was a game without any rules and no winner. It was the game of poke fun, not have fun. It was the game of, “Nanny nanny boo boo” and “Heather, Heather two-by-four, can’t fit through the bathroom door” and “Hey, poor kid, why do you always stink?” Those taunts escalated into comparing mamas and cars and houses and math test scores. OK, maybe not math test scores.
We didn’t realize it, but we were preparing ourselves for the very adult, and ever popular game of Self-Righteous Poker. The merry-go-round, slide, and seesaws are gone, but the setting still very much resembles a playground. Because the mentality of the players undergirds the atmosphere. You’ve seen it, haven’t you?
“Look at Sheila and her Message Bible. Doesn’t she know that real Christians use the KJV?”
“Look at that man, claiming to be the Messiah. Yet He eats with tax collectors and allows women of ill repute to clean His feet!”
“Heather, Heather two-by-four. You’ve attended three Beth Moore’s but I’ve done more.”
“See how frail and thin I am? That’s because I’m a Pharisee and I fast several times a week. Unlike you heathens. Excuse me while I go stand on the corner to pray so you can see what true righteousness looks like!”
Those are antes, ways to let people know the game is on.
Then come the cards. Each person holds a unique combination of cards. No two players can possibly have the same exact hand. That’s the beauty of our Creation. God gave us unique traits and facets. And we are all a piece of Him since we are made in His image. I imagine, to Him, we are kaleidoscopically, prismatically brilliant. Until we stoop to playing the game and using our differences to “win” a truly unwinnable game. I wonder if He shakes His head at our insolence, at our precarious steps along the edge of a very thin card.
Paul’s words comfort me any time I feel the urge to play the game: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original” (Galatians 5:25-26).
Despite Paul’s warning not to compare ourselves, despite the gloriousness of our originality, despite Jesus showing us just how silly the game is, we play it.
I stare at my cards, confident in my “trump” of Meniere’s Disease. Then, my opponent places her “abusive husband” card on the table. Wow…if that’s not even her trump card, then there’s no way I can win with my piddly disease. Sure, I’m losing my hearing and feel dizzy all the time, but that’s nothing compared to an abusive husband…
Do you see how dangerous this game is? Do you see how this is the same game the people played who put Jesus on the cross? It’s a game that says, “You’ll never be good enough/sick enough/humble enough/holy enough, etc. to deserve my compassion.” Why are we using our problems and experiences as the “Ace” we think we need to win? I’m seeing this game everywhere. Not just in the marketplace, either. We play it in the anonymity of the Internet, in the safety of our homes, in the sanctity of our churches. We play it with strangers, co-workers, friends and family. We even play this game with God. “If You loved me, you’d give me what I need. I could really use a Jack of Clubs, but all you gave me was a Two of Diamonds.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the game. Jesus offers us (me) a solution. When He concluded His comparison, He said, “Wisdom is shown to be right by its results” (Matthew 11:19). Of course. I’ve been more consumed with being right than in getting the right results.
Help me, Oh Lord, not to play marketplace games, but to love as You have loved. I yearn to live my life in such a way that my actions (not just my words) validate my belief in Him and my decision to follow Him.