I have changed her name to protect the innocent, so we’ll just call her “Prissy.”
Prissy and I were CBFFs (Church Best Friends Forever). We were the same age, about 7 or 8, and since her dad was the minister and my family pretty much lived at church, we spent a good deal of time together. It was great when it was just the two of us, but as soon as you added one more person, she became Ms. Bossypants – an expert emotional terrorist with the powers to make you invisible by telling everyone to ignore you if you did something she didn’t like.
On this fateful Wednesday evening, I brought to church the special candy that I had gotten for my birthday (a coconut taffy wrapped in a hard shell) in a beautiful little tin box. My mom warned me that this meant I would have to share it with everyone. I wish I could say that sharing is why I wanted to bring it to church, but it wasn’t. I just wanted to show it off.
I walked back to where the kids were hanging out and immediately Prissy came to stand by me. She asked what was in the box. I opened it slowly to create a little mystery, but before I had taken the lid off, Prissy was already trying to take the box away.
“Let me see!” She tugged.
“No!” I yanked back!…and back and forth and back and forth we went until I finally yanked to my left and with my right elbow I knocked her back on her butt.
There was a communal “gasp!” Prissy began to cry (a little excessively if I may add).
And before I knew it, my mother’s steel grip was around my upper arm, and I was being dragged away from the safety of the crowd. I remember thinking dying at church is either a really good thing, in terms of going to heaven, or a really bad thing.
Once we were alone mami asked what happened.
“It was her fault. She tried to take…” I babbled on my justification and began to cry, both because of fear and anger. Why was I the one who was in trouble? She started it! It was my candy! She always got away with whatever she wanted! She deserved to get knocked on her butt… maybe it’ll teach her a lesson!
Finally, my sobbing wound down to deep, staccato breaths. My mother took the candy, wiped my tears and my nose and instructed me to go in there and apologize to her.
“BUT, BUT…why do I have to apologize?! She never apologizes for her rottenness!”
My mother replied, “I know. And what she did was wrong, but that does not give you the right to do ‘something wrong’ back.”
“This is not fair! Is her mom going to make her apologize to me?!”
My mom took a step toward me and brought her face down to meet mine (Oh Lord, if she’s going to kill me, let it be quick.) And in her very frightfully calm and steady voice she said, “I don’t care what she did or what her parents do. YOU are MY daughter… and you know better!”
When we got back to the group, Prissy was on her feet and everyone was fussing over her. My mother gave all the kids there a piece of my candy (with only 1 or 2 pieces left for me… lesson learned), and I walked up to Prissy and apologized. She popped the piece of candy in her mouth and smiled a taunting smile that had “nanny, nanny, boo, boo” written all over it. I did consider knocking her down again, but I was my mother’s daughter… and I knew better.
When reading the gospel narratives, I have started to pay special attention to whom Jesus is directing his stories and teachings. Particularly in terms of whether his teaching is for “the crowds” or specifically for the disciples. I think there is a difference. I think Jesus’ teachings apply to all of us and that the world would be a better place if we all lived by them, but it seems to me that the teachings he addresses specifically toward the disciples carry with them particular expectations.
Take, for example, Luke 17 where Jesus says, “And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4).
To which the disciples respond with the demand, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). In other words, “For real?! You expect us to do that?!…Then you better hook us up with some serious amounts of faith, Lord, because I’ll tell you right now, I don’t think this is humanly possible!” (my rough translation).
I mean, look around you! The world doesn’t function that way… the real world anyways.
How many of the world’s conflicts started over a wrongdoing generations ago but continue today because of the commonly held “world playground rule” that if someone does something wrong, that gives us the right to do “something wrong” back?
Forgive and forget how many times? Yeah right! That’s not how things work in Syria; that’s not how things work The Republic of Congo; that’s not how things work in Washington D.C.; nor at my job or in my family or in my church.
“I refuse to lift a finger to help with his project. He didn’t lift a finger to help me with mine.” “There is no way I am going to invite her to thanksgiving this year, not after what she said about mom last year.” “There is no way I am going to attend her fellowship event because I am sick and tired of her being little Ms. Bossypants.”
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request reminds me of my mother’s words after the “candy tug o’ war”. This is where he shares with the disciples that it only takes a little, itsy, bitsy bit of faith, mustard-seed size, to remove a mulberry bush or a mountain or to forgive as Christ is asking his disciples to forgive. And then he reminds them that slaves are not thanked for doing what is expected of them.
In other words, “I don’t care how they do it in the world. I don’t care how they do it in politics. I don’t care how other people behave at your job or how other family members or friends or neighbors have behaved. YOU are MY disciples… I expect better from you… you know better.”
Lord, it is so hard to be the one that has to apologize and compromise and take a deep breath and count to 10 for the sake of peace. Please help us to remember that through the Holy Spirit, you give us enough grace and enough faith to do what you expect of us. Help us to remember that the more we practice this faith, the more it will grow in us, and the more it will rub off on others. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
Lolimarta Ros Reiter, or as most of her friends know her, Loli, ministers alongside the fine folks at The Presbyterian Church of Seffner outside of Tampa, FL. She was born in Puerto Rico but has lived on the mainland since she was 9. Her daughter Isabel (9 years old) wants you to know her mom is funny; Olivia (6 years old) wants you to know she likes to talk about God…a lot; and John, her husband, wants you to know that she is the best wife, ever…Such a smart man! She looks forward to being in cyber-community with you.