Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Cold Shoulder

I got the cold shoulder from Baxter for a couple of days. I was away from the house a lot, and he didn’t take kindly to my absence. It was nothing personal, but Baxter didn’t see it that way. He didn’t greet me when I came home in the evening as he usually would do. He sat with his back to me when I was eating. He slept facing the wall with his least attractive end facing my direction. None of his signals was subtle. He was making me pay for what he viewed as a slight, a personal insult. How could I have ignored him for other things—like office work, recreation or ministering to God’s people? Of course, his needs for food, water and even pleasant music were attended to, but this wasn’t enough. He wasn’t the center of my attention for a few days, and this wasn’t acceptable.

We can get that way too. We want to be noticed. We want people to pay attention to us and our needs. We want to know that we matter to other’s lives. So we do certain things to send this message and hold others’ feet to the fire about answering it. Often our techniques are a little more subtle than Baxter’s, but they serve the same purpose. The message is clear: Give me your undivided attention and serve me on my terms. Anything less is ignored as trite and trivial, divided love and loyalty, or token obligations rather than true affection. We impose our terms of  commitment, dedication and love on the other person, and refuse to negotiate them.

Jesus certainly called for total commitment, dedication and love from His followers. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37) Yet, He did not try to control or dictate to His disciples the specific terms of this pledge.

The disciples came from all walks of life—fishermen, tax collectors, politically and religiously left and right. Some were out spoken and almost impetuous—Peter and Paul—and some seemed mild mannered or even skeptical—John, Philip and Thomas. What they held in common though was a shared desire to seek God and God’s ways among us. This desire is what Jesus touched in each of them and what brought such a disparate group of persons together to form a band of followers, then a community of disciples, and finally a communion of life called the Church. The litmus test of their love and loyalty was not in what they said or even in what they did--some said challenging things and performed wrong-headed actions with Jesus. The key to their love and commitment was not abandoning their search, not losing their desire to discover God’s will and way for their lives.

In this divided world--and sometimes divided Church-- we live in today, we need to tap the  root of our common desires. We want to know, love and serve God. From this desire, others flow. . We want a better world for our children where they can be safe and have a chance at their dreams. We want a fairer way to share the earth’s goods and a chance to develop our talents and skills. We want the Kingdom of God. To get there, we each and all have to relinquish our private little kingdoms where we try to control and manipulate others to serve our selfish purposes. We need to serve the common good, the desire planted in the heart of every human being for God to be with us, directing us to a better life for everyone.

This vision is beyond Baxter’s ability to see and pursue. So he fusses and pouts when he feels offended and ignored. He’s a cat. Because God made us different from cats, we can be better than that. Let’s start trying.