|A little girl gives an apple to her teacher. Image source.|
This is the story where James and John show up and ask Jesus if they can sit as his right and left in his kingdom. Jesus more or less says no, and uses it as an opportunity to talk about wanting greatness by being a servant, etc.
But the bit I want to talk about is where Jesus says, "but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." (Matthew's account of this story says, "These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.")
I remember one time, long ago, reading that verse and wondering, "Wait, does that mean that 2 people actually will get to sit at Jesus' right and left? And God the Father will pick them? ... I wonder if it'll be me."
Because I used to be that good kid that got unexpectedly recognized and rewarded by teachers. Most of the time, I was just quiet, didn't really talk to anyone, kind of lonely, didn't really understand the entire concept of social interaction. I just did what the teachers said we were supposed to do. Do homework, don't make trouble, etc.
And most of the time, it felt like no one really noticed me. But every now and then, there would be a "one amazing student is getting this special reward/ opportunity" and suddenly the teacher was talking about how smart I was.
And I used to wonder if God saw me that way too. I was good little girl, I was following all the rules- but that meant I didn't stand out. Because in general, if you don't make trouble, the adults don't have to step in and deal with you. (The principal at my elementary school knew all the "bad" kids' names, but not mine.) But apparently my good grades and math ability spoke for themselves, and every now and then there was some pretty great unexpected recognition. And I wondered if God would do that for me too.
I read about Mary, how the angel visited her and said she had been chosen to give birth to the Son of God. Could that have been me? I wondered. Did God pick her because she was the best at following all the rules, getting good grades, and not making trouble, like me?
And I read the story of Noah, about how God killed everyone because they were all bad except Noah and his family. And I was scared- because what if, among the victims of the flood, there was a little girl like me, who was quiet and didn't attract attention, who was good all the time but most people didn't notice... and God didn't notice? God said everyone in the world was so bad they deserved to die, except Noah and his family, but ... could God have missed some of the quiet ones?
Like the times that our teacher would make a whole long speech about how our class was so bad and we need to get our act together. I hadn't done anything bad, but they hadn't noticed me. A bunch of kids in the class were "being bad," so the teacher said we were all being bad. What if God was like that?
One more thing I'd like to say: I no longer define "good" and "bad" in that way. Back when I was a little kid, my identity was very much based on "I'm smart" and I thought I was better than the other kids because of that. I don't necessarily think that was a bad thing for me at the time- I didn't really fit in or have friends, and the adults always said the most important thing was education, not something "shallow" like having a social life- so it would have been difficult for me to not see the world that way. But now I'm an adult, and nobody hands me a list of number theory problems and then tells me I'm so much smarter than everyone else when I get them all right. And "goodness" doesn't mean just avoiding bad behavior (though that's consistent with evangelical teaching on "sin" and how "God takes sin very seriously", blah), but it means actually making a difference in the world. And it's better to make mistakes in your efforts to do good in the world than to just lay low and not break any rules.