This picture popped up on the side of my newsfeed with the tagline: “Is selfie culture helping our self-esteem or sentencing us to lives of self-obsession?”
It’s an interesting so-called “choice”, if you think about it, for both the Either and the Or can have negative consequences. “Self-esteem” is not an end in itself or a quantifiable “good.” What’s the value in “esteeming” your journey if you’re headed the wrong way?
In any case, it’s very hard to “have a sane estimate of your own ability” (as Paul put it). We think of ourselves far too much and far too little, simultaneously. Either way, we are –generally speaking- totally self-obsessed.
So, to put a “How much” on it, is a tricky experiment in quantification.
In Luke 22, you have a series of threads on that theme.
First you have the tragic analysis that Judas made, about Jesus. An ocean of ink has been expended on his motivation, and I guess that we’ll never really know. Maybe he felt betrayed himself. Maybe he felt that Jesus was letting him down. But what is clear is that his decision to betray Jesus was made when self replaced God at the centre of his choices.
And Jesus exposes that choice right in the middle of the Passover meal: “One of you will betray me.”
The curious thing is the immediate response: “Is it I?” Isn’t that amazing? They knew themselves capable of what Judas was about to do.
But that rare moment of self-understanding was overtaken minutes later, when “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” Imagine having that conversation in front of Jesus!
But Jesus takes it on: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” This is where John inserts the story of Jesus washing their feet. The same point is being made. How dare you bully and look down on others? You think of yourselves too much.
Jesus, however, admits a level of coming greatness: “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
You are thinking of yourselves wrongly. It is for me to honour you, not for you to niggle and shove each other into a pecking order.
And at this point Jesus begins to pray for Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Peter doesn’t receive it at all! “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” I imagine that that line was spoken, hand on heart, head proudly back in a voice that carried throughout the room. Big tough Peter. The indomitable rock.
He thinks quite highly of himself, doesn’t he?
And Jesus tells him about what will happen in the night ahead, that the rock will crumble
Jesus is preparing him for future failure. There’s an odd thought, isn’t it? Quite often, when some leader fails in the Christian community, we shout him down, cat-calling and shooting the wounded with undisguised relish. It’s an unpleasant prospect, the name-calling and denouncing that flies across the Internet, like a class of Primary school children ratting on their naughty school-friends. It’s so childish, so unloving. What an amazing contrast, to see Jesus preparing Peter for failure and encouraging him to go through it, into new hope and strength and to get ready to comfort others with the comfort he himself has received.
So, based on their own self-obsessed decision-making, Judas betrays Jesus and Peter denies him. The disciples posture and blabber about greatness, but when push comes to shove, they shove off. What of Jesus himself? Jesus enacts what godly choosing looks like. He kneels in the garden of Gethsemane , encourages his faltering friends to pray with him, and reaches deeply into the will of his Father. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”
And Father says no.
Sometimes we think that prayer reaches outwards from the one praying to change the circumstances. Mostly, I find, it works the other way around. It reaches inwards to focus and challenge my own thinking. It’s this very point again: How much do I think of myself? Jesus understood that his entire destiny was wrapped up in the glory of God; he saw that this was God’s victory story, and he had a vital role to play. It was the role of a servant.
And so he concluded: “Not my will but yours be done.”
Can we really reverse the order? Is prayer really the demand that my will be accomplished?
And if it is truly God’s will that must be done, and if I am called to be a servant to that will, then how much can I think of myself?