Blessed are those who do not “work the room”

Today the second reading at Mass struck me.

Here it is:

“My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,

and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’

have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” James 2:1-5

In a room there is a common temptation to scan the room for the so-called important people. The failure to resist this temptation often leads to someone dismissing one conversation partner so that he or she can “work the room.”

A friend with whom I volunteered at a lofty dinner event lamented that one of the other student volunteers turned her back on her mid-sentence to shake the hand of someone who she determined to be more worthy of her time.

Sometimes it seems that adults will follow the person with the most dignified title or position in a foolish manner comparable to how small children will all chase after a soccer ball in a cluster.

The above reading challenges us to recognize the equality in the sanctity of each person. While we can respect certain offices and authorities, ultimately we should be able to shake someone’s hand in a similar spirit of respect and charity whether that person is the prime minister or a person outcasted by much of society.

Mother Teresa was able to do her good work because she said, “I see the face of Christ in one of his more distressing disguises.”

A friend of mine named Laura Locke reflects on this topic very beautifully. She writes:

“Why is it that we so often feel drawn to people on the other end of the spectrum?  We give our attention to the powerful, the good-looking, the rich, the talented, the confident ones who are very successful at looking after themselves.  I guess we naturally lean towards people whom we secretly strive to be – and who strives to be an outcast?  But Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps, to walk with him down the dusty back roads, seeking the people that normally garner no one’s attention.”

The gospel is filled with paradoxes. This is true of philosophy also and very untrue of ideology.

It is interesting to reflect on the different experiences of community from an informal gathering sharing coffee and donuts with strangers after church to the experience of attending a political convention which tends to consist in swapping business cards and credentials. There is something to learn from both and really from any experience with others. However, I think it is important to balance these sorts of experiences so as to not become blinded by the partiality mentioned in scripture.

At every mass the congregation says, “I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault….” Whereas, at political events we tend to essentially find a way to say, “I profess to you my colleagues and acquaintances that I have succeeded through my own achievement…”

The more that we derive our sense of identity from what we do rather than who we are, the more challenging it is for us to see the instrinic dignity of others.

Young people are often encouraged to network so that they can “get ahead”, but this seems to be a perverse notion of relationship. Instead, let us be encouraged to love one another so that we can get to heaven. I think that the authenticity of the latter will bear more fruit both in this life and the next.

 
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