In high school, college, and seminary I played in a hand bell choir and also as a hand bell soloist. Many people knew me as “the bell guy.” When returning to California to visit my parents, I keep being asked about bells though I stopped playing years ago. That memory, that name sticks.
People leave, change, and return with memories of who we once were jostling up against who we are now. Memories may be neutral or fun like the bell guy. Memories may be of embarrassment, shame, or guilt. We may be treated with aggression, evasion, or suspicion. People may restrict us, zeroing in on what we did—even if we only did it once—focusing on the past instead of acknowledging who we have become.
Jesus experienced this. When Jesus returned home for a visit, his neighbors said:“Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?”Is this really the son of Joseph and Mary? Jesus was no longer the boy they remembered watching grow up. Jesus had become a powerful, prophetic teacher. They took offense at him. Jesus knows what it feels like to be dismissed and restricted.
Much of how we hurt each other stems from taking offense at change. We easily cling to sticky memories, trapping people in the past.
“I keep putting him at a distance because he hurt me so much.”
“I keep treating her as a child in order to not lose my identity.”
“I keep telling him what to do because I fear he’ll leave me.”
We also resist change in ourselves. Complacency, dejection, and fear can hold us back.
“Why take the risk? I can make do with what I have now.”
“It’s never worked before. This can’t get better.”
“I’ve fought to create this. It would be like joining the enemy.”
Yet such changes may be exactly what we need and what God enables.
Jesus demonstrates a hopeful, abundant life marked by change and transformation. Jesus welcomed all kinds of people as beloved of God including women, children, foreigners, tax collectors, prostitutes, those sick and outcast. Jesus challenged cultural and religious labels and limits by loving everyone freely and inviting them further into life.
Following Jesus informs how we view people and ourselves. Rather than restricting people and taking offense, following Jesus invites respecting people, supporting and encouraging their development.
What sticky memory or label is problematic for you today such that you are taking offense at someone or at yourself?
Who are you becoming?
Richard Meux Benson, SSJE’s founder, wrote that in the Eucharist God grasps us and pulls us onward. God does not simply give us sustenance for today. God reaches out a hand and pulls us onward into the future, to change, to becoming more.
Who, by God’s grace, are you becoming?
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