< Back

Look at Me!

March 18, 2018
By Rev. David French


If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, you no doubt remember the legend of Narcissus.  He was supposedly the son of the river god.  A seer had told his mother that her son must never see his reflection if he was to mature into manhood, and so everything that reflected an image was removed from the home.  One day, however, Narcissus found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water.  As he stooped down to take a drink from the pool, he saw his reflection on the surface of the pool.  He fell desperately in love with himself, and trying to embrace himself, he fell into the water and drowned.

Now we don’t hear much talk about the legend of Narcissus these days, but we do still use his name to describe those who are hopelessly self-centered and self-absorbed.  In fact, narcissism is now identified and catalogued as an official personality disorder by the American medical profession.  And we do, of course, still use it in a general sense to describe one of the notable maladies of our 21st century American culture.  Ours, I’m sure you know, is in many ways a narcissistic culture.  We live in an age of entitlement.  In fact, just about 10 years ago there was book written on the subject.  It was titled, The Narcissism Epidemic … Living in an Age of Entitlement.  Here are just a few of the examples the authors give to show how our culture has turned in on itself.

They write, “On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet.  (They add) … ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous.  High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention.”

None of us of course should be surprised by any of this … we are, after-all, living it.  And God did tell us through the apostle Paul, as He revealed: in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Does that mean Jesus is coming soon?  Maybe; maybe not.  What we do know is that the problem of self-centeredness is nothing new to our culture or really to humanity.  Looking at today, I suppose we could argue how far the problem reaches, but, as Solomon wrote, there is “nothing new under the sun.”

So let’s consider the contrast that’s set before us in our Gospel lesson.  It’s a James and John versus Jesus situation: selfish ambition versus self-sacrifice; wanting to be a lord over others versus being Lord of all, and yet, desiring only to serve.  These are two completely different ways of looking at and living life; two opposite ways of thinking when it comes to how we deal with others.

James and John, by asking for the seats of honor in Jesus’s kingdom, reveal the core of our fallen nature … that is, selfishness.  But before we point the proverbial finger of pride, or, fail to see ourselves in James and John, it’s important to recognize that they aren’t in any way unique in their ambition.  In fact, we’re told the other disciples were “indignant” when they learned that James and John had asked for those seats of honor.  Why do you think that was?  Were the rest of the disciples angry with the two brothers because they should have never asked Jesus such a selfish question?  Or, were they angry because they were afraid that James and John may have “cut in line,” if you will?

Remember, Jesus’s way of thinking is always counter to our way of thinking.  We see success and fulfillment in life by the things we surround ourselves with and in the power we hold.  Jesus says we gain our lives, that is, we find significance, purpose, and meaning in our lives by giving them away.

We think greatness is seen by the number of people who serve us.  Jesus says greatness is seen in our service to others even as He came into the world not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom.

We try in many and various ways to learn to love ourselves, as if that’s a noble goal.  Jesus, however, sets us free to love others in a world that needs the compassion and care He offers to all through us, His hands and feet. 

James and John, who wanted the seats of honor when Jesus came in His glory, and all of us gathered here this morning for that matter, see Jesus’s anguish in regard to drinking the cup of suffering that lay before Him.

This One who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. We struggle to truly understand the humility of His servant heart laid open for all to see in the suffering and shame of His passion.  The truth is, when God in His mercy finally brings us to see just how much we love ourselves more than Him, we will, like Peter, have no course but to beg God to have mercy on our miserable souls.  It’s in that state of internal turmoil that, by faith, we come to see that we really don’t deserve any seat in Christ’s kingdom, let alone the highest. It’s then that Jesus says, “Look at Me!”  See My body and My blood set before you at this altar!  Look at the fount!  There I gave you new life and made you an heir of My kingdom!  Look at Me!  On the cross I became what I was not to make you what you are not!  I took your sin and gave you My righteousness!  The Father turned His back on Me so that He need never turn His back on you!  Look at Me!

The mythical figure Narcissus saw his reflection, fell in love with himself, and then died in his own embrace.  Most Americans today have probably never heard or don’t remember the legend of Narcissus.  But still, we are all too familiar with the heart that is described by his name.

In was into just such a world that Christ came to serve, to bear our sins, and to suffer the punishment for our guilt!  And though we all at one time, as it were, hid our faces from Him; He still sought us and claimed us as His own in our baptisms and seated us in His kingdom.

It is into this world of ours, a world that we don’t really understand, a world that to this day seeks to pull us away from Christ, that Christ continues to serve you and all His children by setting us free from ourselves.  This is so that, by grace, we might point others to Him as we live and love them with the love He shows and life He gives to us.

In Jesus’s name.  Amen.