Do you want to be famous?
All you need to do, apparently, is wear a dress made out of meat and media all over the world will have your picture. Of course if you’re Orthodox you can’t wear the dress on Wednesday and Fridays or any time during Lent unless the meat is fish and your wearing it only on March 25th. All of Bright Week, however, is available for you to wear your flesh food fashions.
That’s the goal isn’t it? To be famous, to be rich, to have people know who you are, recognize you on the streets, and wish they were you? Somewhere, somehow, I want to be somebody because that’s where the cars and the houses and the great vacations are all hidden, that secret world of the rich and famous we see on TV all the time.
Of course they don’t tell you about the chains, not the ones made of bling and hanging around your neck but rather the chains that come, forged link by link as you work your way to the top. That’s all in the small print at the bottom of the contract right next to where you and the devil have signed your names.
The more you have the more you need to maintain. The higher your position the bigger the headaches. The more famous you become the less you are yourself and the more you become a projection on a screen. The better you think you are means the fall will be just that much longer and harder. Every time you buy into the world’s visions of success, achievement, and fame you also forge a link in your chain and if you don’t take care the weight of it will hold you down and your hands will never be able to reach to heaven.
Witness the publican, commemorated this Sunday. Somewhere along the line he came to understand, he came to be as we say in our baptisms, enlightened, and illumined. The scales of St. Paul fell off his eyes and what he saw was startling. Conviction roared into his life and so did understanding. He saw himself, he saw God, he saw the purpose of things and he was humbled. Coming to himself the best and only prayer he could muster was “God have mercy upon me a sinner.”
And in that moment he, like Zaccheaus and millions of others since, learned what it means to be truly free.
We’d like to think that our potential, our destiny, our highest self, is all about what we draw to our lives, the things, the accomplishments, the honors, the 15 minutes in the spotlight. In truth, though, it is our humility that sets us free because in humility, in seeing ourselves with the only eyes that truly matter, namely God’s, we pierce through the illusions, free ourselves from chasing things that don’t matter, and we discover what grace, what love, and what joy are possible when earthly things, earthly visions, have lost their power to hold us.
The things the world offers may come to us but if they’ve lost their power to enslave us we will not be owned by them. We will not gain the whole world and lose our own soul. We will not lose our true heaven for lesser ones. We will avoid being carried away by fads and fancies. In a self absorbed culture will be able to see so much more, share so much more, live abundantly in the best sense of the word, and never have to look at a picture of ourselves from back then and say to “What was I thinking, I actually wore a dress made out of meat.”
I know, in one sense it’s easier in the short run to go with the flow, to stand and declare our virtues, nourish the façade, and chase the winds of fashion. We fear the loss of everything we’ve been told is important. “What will we do?” “How will we live?” And that fear sometimes keeps us in a hell of our own making, the stick and never the carrot, a life misdirected from its purpose, a hunger that never goes away, a foretaste of the later hell, also of our own making, where our grandiose prayers will echo in the dark.
But one step away is life, real life for the taking, life lived where the only eyes that matter are God’s, where the only challenge is to live more and more in his grace and love, a life lived with eyes and heart open, where troubles are real but smaller in the light of eternity, a life where the sweetest heaven is already tasted and the real one awaits. Compared to that what house, what job, what position, what accolades, what meaningless piety, what temporary honors would matter?
And it all begins with “God have mercy on me a sinner.”