6th Sunday after Epiphany: It’s Not All About You!
By: Dr. Emily Kahm
It’s not all about you!
This is a tricky message to incorporate at any time of one’s life, but perhaps especially so after the consumerist marathon that is the Christmas season, which gives way to the self-improvement hype of the New Year—not that these seasons are irredeemably bad! Consumerism is often just the language we know how to employ when we try to show others that we care about them. Self-improvement is often the way we acknowledge that it is worth being good to ourselves. But still: It’s not all about you.
This is the refrain that my spouse and I often use when discussing frustrations with people in our field who don’t seem to “get it.” He’s in campus ministry and works with other great ministers, but still runs into folks who seem to use a ministry platform to promote their own favorite spiritual practices and dismiss those who advocate for a variety of ways of reaching students. I teach college-level Religion, and while my fellow Religion professors are fantastic, I still occasionally run into peers who seem to resent the fact that college students aren’t immediately thrilled by the topic of their introductory courses, or don’t laud their innovative assignments. We always seem to end discussions about these colleagues with the phrase, “It’s not all about you!” Ministry and teaching are about serving the needs of those who are in front of you, and that means a certain de-centering of self. If you go into these fields with ego, you’ll quickly be disenchanted.
I’ve written on the Beatitudes before for this blog, but I had previously been assigned the Matthew version—those recitations are longer and more detailed, and they don’t include the significant “Woe to you” section at the end. This is one reason I appreciate having more than one Gospel to relate what Jesus said—so much is the same, but I find the tone drastically different. Instead of comfort, we get challenge. Instead of blessing apparently everyone, Jesus makes it clear that he is fully subverting the status quo—the happy and well-fed and well-regarded and well-off will not remain so. Perhaps they should not remain so when so many around them are suffering.
I find myself wondering if Jesus switched gears during this sermon because he saw too many disciples and would-be followers latching onto the blessings, not really getting that they might not number among the “poor” with whom Jesus is especially concerned. This is a common human tendency: we look up when we think about our power and influence, comparing ourselves to those who obviously have more. I distinctly remember thinking during my senior year of college that it seemed like everybody was going to grad school and that my nearly-complete bachelor’s degree was effectively insignificant. That changed the day I got called in for jury duty. Out of 76 randomly chosen people in my county, I was one of exactly 2 who had any college education at all. Who’s the blessed one, again?
It’s also tempting to downplay our own successes and blessings, I think, because doing so exempts us from helping those who have less. I might have a house and be able to pay all my utilities each month, but all that student loan debt! In my introductory class, I ask my students to seriously consider whether they would give up their own comforts in order to ensure another person would have enough to survive. Most respond with uncertainty – they’re not used to thinking of themselves as “rich” to begin with, so the idea that they could or should give up something they think of as normal (air conditioning? Internet? A personal computer?) so that another person could have clean water is a strange proposition. They’re much more comfortable arguing why those two things are unrelated than they are with admitting that there are some things they’d refuse to go without. Jesus makes no excuses for those who have plenty; their fortunes will change. Better if they embrace a call to poverty, to mourning alongside the hurting, to sharing what they have with those who have not, than to wait for the Kingdom of God to reverse their luck.
So as we ride out the season of self-interest, let’s allow Jesus to tell us that it’s not about us—that we should be looking down rather than up when we compare our blessings—and be honest about what we are really able to share from our abundance.
Dr. Emily Kahm is a Teaching Fellow in Religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She and her spouse, Chris, welcomed their first child, Xavier, into the world in late September of 2018.