Opposite and True
While still a young man, Daniel’s career path was pre-determined. He was placed in the Babylonian gifted program, and upon graduation went to work for the King.
Did your high school have a gifted program? Mine did. I wasn’t in it. The teens in the program were good at everything. I did well in a few subjects. They made As in every class, on every test, on every assignment. The program was only for a select few.
Not every Jewish teen got a spot in the Babylonian program either. The girls were not included because they were girls. The boys with handicaps, the average looking, the slow-witted, the socially awkward, the Babylonian king wasn’t going to take a chance on any of them. They were not given the chance to take an aptitude test and prove that they were smart. That meant that there was no schooling for them. No possibility for social advancement. It’s not fair.
Only the boys like Daniel, the ones from the right families, without physical defects, the handsome, the adept at every kind of learning, the well-informed, the quick to understand, those qualified to serve in the palace, these teenage boys were thought to have potential, potential which would be useful to the King.
In the Gospel lesson, Nathanael doubts Jesus’ Messiah-potential. The Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the royal city, everyone knows that. Jesus is automatically dismissed because he is from the wrong side of the map without being given a chance to prove his true identity.
Jesus is from Nazareth. Jesus is the Messiah. Both are true.
Two opposites are true about each of us. We don’t measure up to someone’s standards. We didn’t make the cut. The job went to someone more talented. The girl married a more attractive rival. The slot in the training program was filled by a co-worker deemed to be more worthy. The King of Babylon did not see our potential, and we were not given a chance.
The King of Heaven judges us by a different set of standards. According to the Apostle Paul, God prefers to minister through social rejects. God takes a chance on all us.
Because of Christ, we are enrolled in the gifted-by-grace program. Amazingly, every wretch is saved, offered the potential for a new life, and told to let others in on God’s opinion of their worthiness.
Holding on to both of these truths about ourselves can be a challenge. We have been rejected. We have been chosen. Holding on to both of these truths about others can be a challenge. The same person who in our eyes doesn’t measure up, is also chosen by God.
When I can hold on to both truths it softens my experience of rejection because the knowledge that I am more in the eyes of God can help me receive the bad news without disgust or animosity, without complaining that the Daniels of the world get all the breaks. When I remember who I am to God, I can survive rejection and not turn bitter.
Jesus was not embittered by Nathanael’s rejection. He still chose Nathanael to be a part of his mission, and eventually Nathanael accepted the invitation. Jesus experienced judgement. He knows what it feels like to not measure up to someone’s elses standards, and because he’s been there, he is a sympathetic Savior, one who can walk us through the emotional upheaval that rejection causes.
Here’s a prayer exercise you can practice at home to ask Jesus to help you hold on to both truths about yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you palm up and say “I am rejected. I am chosen.” And clasp your hands together. “Both are true.”
When I practice this exercise I practice between statements in order to see what memories or emotions the words evoke. What memories of past rejections come up? How do I feel about being chosen by God? When I bring my hands together and rest in the truth of my opposite experiences thoughts arise such as “That is me, That is who I am. I have been passed over. My potential has gone unrecognized. This is true. God does choose to minister through me. God can make use of me.”
As you practice this prayer exercise let yourself remember when you’ve gone through these experiences of rejection, and remind yourself that everyone has experience rejection. Even Jesus.
Now remind yourself that Christ chose to become human in order to save you. He risked rejection so that you would know God’s eternal love for you.
You have rejected someone. You hurt their feelings. You could not see the potential in one of God’s children. This does not make them any less the beloved of God. They are both.
Here’s a spiritual discipline you can practice during the day to help you hold on to both truths about someone else. When you are talking to someone and that person starts to annoy you, and you feel yourself rejecting them and pulling away, stop yourself, look at them and think “Child of God. Loved by God.”
I try to keep repeating this truth to myself until my attitude towards them softens. This practice lowers the volume on my impatience . . . sometimes. Other times if all I can do is stop myself from lashing out at the object of my frustration, then I count that a minor victory.
Life can be unfair. Other people have abilities that we do not possess and that means opportunities are open to them that we don’t have a shot at. We are not created equal. There are so many people out there who feel inferior because they were rejected and they were not let down easy. Christ can heal them if they could get to know him.
And that’s where we in the Church come in. It is up to us to get the message through to the hurt and bitter and shamed that Christ’s love is available to them. That the Church is here for folks like them. That in fact from the beginning God has built the Church out of social outcasts. And there’s room here for lots more.
Graciously dealing with rejection is one way that we can live out our Christian beliefs. Christ’s power at work in our lives is on display when we treat the Daniels who seem to have all the luck as our equals in God’s love. Christ’s power at work in our lives is on display when we treat the rejects who seem to have every strike against them as our equals in God’s love.
Only because of the amazing grace of God. That’s the only way that we will become those kind of Christians. People who softly hold on to truth.