With the holidays drawing near, it’s not too hard to imagine the following scenario.
Two empty-nesters have managed to convince their two sons, both in their 20’s, to come home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The older son, now in his late 20’s, got a great job with JP Morgan in Manhattan just out of an Ivy League university and for three years killed it in the Big Apple. He then left to get an MBA at Duke, opening up even further opportunities and landed an incredible gig with Goldman Sachs in London–lots of possibility but lots of responsibility. He is gregarious, fit, hard-working–the life of the party.
The younger son, in his mid-20’s, took a year off after high school, then went to a local vo-tech school, to be an auto mechanic. Loving to work with his hands, he found a master leather-worker in a rural area nearby and has set up an informal apprenticeship with the man. He is quiet, unambitious, simple in his tastes, and a good listener.
Neither one has found a girl. The older brother is focused on his career, and the younger brother isn’t the most suave, but he’s not exactly in a hurry either.
For that reason, perhaps, it wasn’t too hard for their parents to convince them to come home for Thanksgiving. But there was a far more compelling reason for both young men.
At home they were deeply loved sons. No more, no less.
As much as the older son loved his work (it was probably an addiction), he couldn’t wait to buy his ticket home from London. All the pressures, all the expectations of being “the boy wonder” wouldn’t follow him home. There he could just be a son. Sure, mom and dad were proud of all he had done, but, honestly, it really wasn’t that big of a deal to them. He reveled in not having to be a ‘big deal’ at home. He didn’t have to be anything more than a son.
As for the younger son, while he enjoyed his work a lot, he realized that to most people it really wasn’t that impressive: he was just a mechanic. When girls asked what he did for living, after his brief response, they moved on to other topics and, more often than not, to other guys. Most of his classmates had gone away to college and now had started big careers and even families. He had stayed back home. But he knew that whatever disinterest or disappointment he felt from others (and from himself), none of it would follow him home; he reveled at the thought of his parents’ welcome. At home he was nothing less than a son.
The most common metaphor for the people of God in Scripture is that of a family. Again and again, Jesus refers to God as “our Father in Heaven”–as he taught his followers to pray. Other New Testament authors repeatedly address their readers as “brothers and sisters.”
And in the family of God it goes without saying that there are no favorites. This makes it a very counter-cultural community. When followers of Jesus come out of a world that constantly “plays favorites” (based on wealth, appearance, education, age, personality, pedigree, etc., etc.) and enter into the family of God, regardless of the high or low status that they may have in the world, in the family they can all revel–i.e., take pride–in a very different, far better status.
Consider the exhortation of James 1.9-10:
“Let the brother or sister of low position take pride in their heightened position. And let the rich [i.e., the high status] brother or sister take pride in their lowered position.”
James calls all of God’s people, whom he calls brothers and sisters, to “take pride” in the status they have in the family of God. That is, siblings, whether of low or high worldly status, are to “take pride” in their family status. Why?
Recall our Thanksgiving story above. The younger brother–here the brother of low worldly position–is more than happy to escape the unjust status criteria of the world, which wrongly assign to him a value far lower than he actually has.
But what about the older brother? Does it make sense that he should “take pride in his lowered position”?
The (overwhelming?) majority of humans cannot actually meet the status criteria of their culture (no wonder we all feel so excluded, so inadequate, so overwhelmed, etc., so much of the time), but some actually can meet these criteria–well, at least some of the criteria. But to the extent that they can, the more exhausted and stressed out they are.
And simply because one has managed to meet some of those criteria today, there is always tomorrow, when you have to do it all over again. And all who play this game know that at the end of the day you just can’t win (or, at least, keep winning). Eventually, it will all just slip through your fingers. The show goes on without you.
And that’s exactly what James says next, using an extended botanical metaphor. Why, says, James, should “the rich [i.e., the high status] brother or sister take pride in their lowered position” in the family of God?
“…because they will pass away like a wildflower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way the rich will fade away in the midst of their pursuits.”
Why, then, would one want to define oneself by these “pursuits”?
Well, one would definitely want to do so, if one had no family to come home to (and not just for Thanksgiving).
But followers of Jesus do.
True Christian community–community that liberates us from the crushing status criteria that either (temporarily) make or (usually/eventually) break the world–is found in following James’ counsel. Christians are to “take pride”–to revel–in their sibling status in the family of God. But they do so coming from different places on the world’s “status totem pole.”
Such “pride” is essential for the family of God to enjoy true community, because it is only when we check our degrees, publications, projects, and personal connections at the door that we can discover what actually makes each and every one of us humans amazing: our unique God-createdness.
It’s something every single human has, and it’s what we celebrate in the family of God, enabling it to be the most inclusive community that ever existed. And that raises a crucial question:
With the two sons eager to come home, because they take pride in their place in the family, will they also take pride in one another?