Being nice isn’t just the right thing to do. According to researchers, it’s how to get ahead in your career and personal life.
Lectionary This Week: January 17
Who doesn’t enjoy a romantic wedding with a festive celebration? Although the wedding at Cana took place thousands of years ago, 21st century people can still relate to the hard work and money that go into creating the perfect wedding day.
In the U.S., it’s estimated that the average couple spends $26,444 on their wedding and reception. While this may seem exorbitant, much of the cost of the wedding is in providing a nice meal and maybe even an open bar. It’s the cost of providing hospitality to the special people and honored guests who attend the wedding.
Hospitality is important in our culture. But if we mess it up, it doesn’t come with the same social stigma and shame that it would have brought at the wedding at Cana. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures held hospitality in extremely high regard. In an “honor-shame” culture where one’s honor could be “lost,” poor hospitality would have been devastating and shameful.
Fortunately for the bridegroom in this passage, Jesus saves the day.
The Passage: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
The Wedding at Cana: Jesus Covers Our Shame
Understanding the shamefulness of poor hospitality in the ancient Middle East is the key to unpacking the significance of the wedding at Cana.
Mary must have been close enough to the family to realize the impending disaster of dry wine barrels. She uses her motherly influence to ask Jesus to help the family preserve its honor and avoid a scandal. There’s nothing in the passage to indicate that the bridegroom was aware of the problem, but Jesus covers their shame and discreetly preserves their honor.
Not only did he provide wine, he provided the best quality wine — and a lot of it! If there were six jars of 20-30 gallons each, then Jesus created between 120-180 gallons of wine. Think about that. That would be the equivalent of 302 and 470 bottles of wine. He covered their shame and even brought a little extra honor by helping them provide extravagant hospitality.
The passage refers to this miracle as the “first of his signs.” Signs point us towards what is to come. Jesus’ first miracle covered the shame of the bride and the bridegroom — gifting them with honor that they didn’t necessarily deserve.
The wedding at Cana and the miracle of turning water into wine was a sign that pointed to what Jesus would later do for all of humankind. His death and resurrection was the final miracle of his earthly ministry — one that covered our shame and gave us the honor of being called daughters and sons of God.
Sooner or later, friends, coworkers, even family members will disappoint you. You’re going to feel betrayed. Taken advantage of. You can’t avoid it. It’s inevitable. But when people let you down, you have a choice to make: You can either use it as an excuse to become angry and bitter, or you can turn your disappointment into spiritual strength.
What to Do When People Let You Down
Some of life’s disappointments are bigger than others. But over time, even small let-downs and disappointments can make you feel numb. Instead of hoping and dreaming, you stop believing in yourself and other people. Worse yet, you start believing that if the people you trust don’t care about you, then God must not care about you, either.
Life is too short to wallow in self-pity. When people let you down (and someone always will), it’s time to fall back on the fundamentals — nuggets of spiritual wisdom to help you move forward in peace, joy and confidence.
1. Happiness starts with you.
It’s easy to blame other people for making your life miserable. But at the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own happiness. Real happiness — the kind of happiness that hangs around regardless of your circumstances — comes from knowing who you are rather than letting other people define you.
When people let you down, remember that you’re not alone. Even Jesus felt betrayed by his friends and forsaken by God. By embracing your identity and worth as a child of God, you can reclaim your happiness from haters and critics.
2. Expectations are a slippery slope.
We all place expectations on other people. We expect our spouses to love us, our coworkers to respect us and our friends to be nice to us. And that’s the problem … because even though expectations are part of life, they set us up for heartache and disappointment.
In a letter to a friend, the English poet, Alexander Pope said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will never be disappointed.” There’s a lot of truth in that. By minimizing the expectations you place on other people, you can prevent disappointment down the road.
3. Pain is real, but temporary.
When people let you down, the pain you feel is real. Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can say or do to make that pain go away. But no matter how much it hurts, you have to remind yourself that the pain is temporary.
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Tomorrow is a new day and even though the heartache you’re feeling now won’t instantly disappear, it will get better.
4. You matter more than you know.
Insignificance is an unfortunate side effect of disappointment and betrayal. When people you trust turn their backs on you (or worse yet, stab you in the back), it stirs up feelings of abandonment and isolation. Life as you know it is suddenly turned upside down and you start to wonder whether anyone cares about you.
But the truth is that your life matters to God and to countless other people who depend on you to be a source of love, support and encouragement. By investing time and energy in those people, you find purpose and meaning in your life — and you realize that you aren’t alone after all.
You cross paths with difficult people every day. Instead of getting even, you need to get creative and kill them with kindness. Here’s how to get started.
I don’t think I’m the kind of person that attracts misery (at least I hope not). But somehow, I keep seeing people who are both: (1) self-proclaimed followers of Jesus and (2) horribly and alarmingly miserable. Where did all of these miserable Christians come from? And whatever happened to Christian joy?
In my experience, the miserable Christians I encounter generally fall into two camps.
The first camp are people who go through the motions of faith (or pretend to), but don’t seem very excited about it. They’re apathetic about their spirituality and they’re miserable. Maybe it’s because their lifeless version of faith feels like having a Ferrari parked in the garage collecting dust. Or maybe it’s because they think Jesus is just a golden ticket to the ever-after. Whatever the reason, it’s sad seeing them plod through their faith like it’s something to be endured.
The second camp of miserable Christians is more disturbing. These folks aren’t apathetic at all. Instead, they’re aggressive, bitter and angry. Somewhere along the way, politics or ideology or God-knows-what-else-has contaminated their faith. From Bible-thumping moralists to radical, faith-based activists, these are the people who see their faith not as a source of hope and inspiration, but as a cudgel that they can use to beat up anyone and everyone who disagrees with them.
When I see the misery their faith inflicts on these people (or maybe it’s the misery these people inflict on their faith), it really does make me wonder whatever happened to the idea of Christian joy?
Stephen Colbert on Christian Joy
You’ve probably heard of Stephen Colbert. After a wildly successful tenure at Comedy Central, Colbert succeeded Letterman as host of The Late Show. He has one of the sharpest comedic minds on the planet and he’s succeeded in doing something that a lot of comedians never quite pull off – he pokes fun at people, but is still regarded as an all-around nice guy.
What you might not know about Colbert is that he’s also a deeply committed Christian. A lifelong Catholic, he makes no effort to hide the fact that he’s in the fold. In fact, until a few months ago, he regularly taught a catechism class at his church.
A recent Daily Beast report described an interview that took place between Colbert and Father Thomas Rosica, media attache to the Holy See press office. The interview is remarkable for a lot of reasons. But in Father Rosica’s words, it “shows that a modern (Christian) is someone who is fundamentally with joy, with truth, and with a sense of history.”
Did you catch that? A modern Christian is someone who is fundamentally with joy. Here are a few excerpts from the interview so you can hear Colbert’s take on Christian joy for yourself:
“I think, you know, one of the reasons why and listen, I’m a wealthy man, don’t get me wrong, but one of the reasons why we don’t help the poor, I think is that we think if we give it to them, we won’t have anything, you know, so again it’s fear that keeps you from experiencing the joy of helping other people.”
The “joy of helping other people”? It’s a novel concept, I know. But helping others is a big part of what it means to experience Christian joy on a daily basis.
When it comes to Pope Francis, Colbert is clearly a fan:
“Many of the things that the Pope has said have been seen as, I think probably in some ways, by people outside of the Church … as a sort of bomb-throwing, you know. (But) … to be a fool for Christ is to love …”
In the apostle Paul’s world, foolishness for Christ meant rejecting social conventions and priorities to joyfully embrace Jesus’ alternative way of life – the way of love. So, for Colbert, love is the epicenter of the foolishness and joy of the gospel.
“The Church is a flawed and human institution, for whom I always have hope. And I have no doubt that he (Pope Francis) is far from a perfect man, but he gives me hope that the message of joy that he wants to spread right now can be seen as not revolutionary, but a manifestation of something that was always there.”
Translation: Christian joy isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. It’s always been a part of Christianity and if you’re following Jesus without joy, you’re doing it wrong.
Finding Christian Joy
Let’s get something straight: Christian joy isn’t about living in a constant state of euphoria. If you’re following Jesus because you want to live every minute of every day in religious ecstasy, stop now. That’s not what Christian joy is all about and it’s only a matter of time before you feel disappointed, angry and bitter.
Instead (and this is what Colbert gets about a life of faith), Christian joy is about having a sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness and peace in the midst of tragedy — without downplaying the gravity of suffering.
More than anything else, joy is about putting love and compassion for your fellow human beings above the need to be right.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? If you’re lacking in the joy department, here are a few quick tips to help you get back on track:
Get to Know Jesus
It’s impossible to truly know Jesus and not have joy. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. If you don’t feel a sense of joy in your life, then maybe it’s time to put aside the Jesus you think you know and get acquainted with the Jesus described in the gospels — the Jesus of compassion, mercy and hope who came to speak words of life and healing to the world.
Stop Judging, Start Loving
Fingerpointing is a joy killer. If you’re expending your spiritual energy looking for faults in other Christians and people in the world at large, there’s no room in your soul for joy. Anger and judgmentalism are byproducts of fear (fear of difference, fear of not having enough, etc.). By naming your fear and letting it go, it becomes possible to love like Jesus loves — and that’s the fast track to experiencing joy.
Learn to Trust
There are very few things that you can actually control in life. Yet many of us live like we’re in control of everything. Like cosmic puppet masters, we pull this string and that string, believing that we have the power (and responsibility) to keep our own little worlds on track. Learning to trust God means giving up the illusion of control. Trust is at the heart of joyful living because no matter what happens, we know that God is with us and we’re not alone.
Christian joy is magnetic. If people actively avoid you, it’s not a sign that you’re fighting the good spiritual fight — it’s a sign that your faith journey has wandered off course. When you have Christian joy, people will notice there’s something different about you and they’ll want to be around you.
Life is hard — too hard to live without joy. So do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor. Get serious about finding Christian joy and start living the life you were created to live.