Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Would you like a magic mirror? If you had one, what would you like it to say, the unvarnished truth or what you want to hear? I think I’d like a diplomatic mirror – one that tells me the truth but can also see into my emotional state to see if I’m in the mood for reality. Mirrors are great even without any magical power. They’re very useful, how many of us don’t check ourselves out on occasion, maybe standing a bit straighter, pulling in or smoothing out? There’s nothing wrong with this, to a certain extent, it shows that we’re sane, it shows that we care about our appearance in the world that we wish to be a part.
Mirrors can also be a bit of a wish list. When we look at ourselves, maybe we sometimes wish to see something else – we want to be looking at someone more generous, healthier, more successful or wise. Mirrors, at least metaphorically, lend us the opportunity to reassess our values – we see a reflection and ponder what we’d like to reflect.
James was concerned that the community he was writing to was doing a poor job of reflecting Jesus. It’s not completely clear where this community was, maybe Jerusalem, but they were having some challenge, maybe similar to challenge that any church might have. Part of the problem was who was seen as the “right kind of people.” Most of these early communities were gathering in private homes, often someone who was wealthy. They’d hear about Jesus, and become what was often called, “the people of The Way.” This rich person would open up their home and in theory, welcome anyone that showed up. This was, for many, a matter of life and death. People would be homeless and starving, maybe a refugee or in desperate need of care and the only place they could go was one of these house churches. In our church today, we talk about finding salvation through the church as something we get after we die – ironically though, for our ancestry, salvation through the church meant not dying at all.
Something was happening here though, that wasn’t quite right. Sure, everyone was welcome, but some were more welcome than others. If you were a person of wealth or prestige, you were given a place of honour but if you were one of those who were desperate, one who was there because of a life or death need, you could go and stand in a corner. James reminds them that this is not the Way of Christ. Jesus was the one to go first to the tax collector and prostitute. Jesus first words of his ministry according to Luke was that God had anointed him to bring good news to the poor. While the Gospel involves the complete reversal of the world order, but for this community, it was the same old same old.
Let’s not be too hard on them though. They were pretty new at this, and really, have things changed all that much – it is after all human nature.
There could be the idea that when we meet someone rich or successful, we might immediately think of what they could do for us, but I’m just going to go with the assumption that none of us and no one in the early church was is that ego-centric. No, I think we’re attracted to and want to be associated with certain people for a far less obvious reason and it has to do with those mirrors.
A mirror isn’t just that reflective piece of glass hanging on the wall. We are all mirrors and every time someone interacts with us, they’re looking at us like a mirror. As independent and self made we’d like to be, a large portion of our identity is determined by the self we see in the eyes of others. When I look at you and I see that you’re listening and engaged, looking concerned at the right time and even laughing at my jokes, that tells me a bit about myself, this affirms that yes, I’m a minister. This is far better than looking out at the congregation and thinking, yes, I’m a sedative!
All the people in our lives, for good and bad and to varying degrees are mirrors that we can see into to help define ourselves. This is one of the reasons pets are so popular and why it can be so crushing when they die. Cats and dogs provide us with that magic mirror that only shows our ideal selves. When we look at a pet, we’re seeing a mirror that tells us we are worthy of unconditional love and admiration; the greatest goal any of us could have is to become the person our pets believe we are.
This is one of the reasons we’re attracted to some people; it’s not that they’re like us but somehow represent what we want to be. When we spend time with someone wealthier, smarter, or more powerful, we might just see ourselves with those qualities. Sports figures show us ourselves as stronger and fitter. In powerful people we might just see ourselves without our own feelings of inadequacy. People, and churches have always done this – it’s great to be a church that attracts doctors because that tells us that if someone as smart as a doctor comes here, we must be doing something right.
On the other hand, when we welcome those who are broken, who are facing their own mortality, it just might cause us to see our own mortality. When we see the tremendous need of those around us, we might be reminded that we may one day be just as desperate.
Another part of this is that when we face the harder parts of life, we look into a mirror that might just reflect back at us our own values. Last week, the picture of a dead Syrian refugee boy lying on a beach grabbed our attention and our hearts. We saw that picture and we thought of the horror that poor father is going through. We saw that picture and intuitively knew that it was only a small representation of a much larger horror taking place away from cameras. But deep down, for many of us, that picture is a difficult mirror to look at. Maybe you see that and it causes you to question if we could be doing more. Maybe you wonder if you’re good enough, brave enough, or even able to help. Maybe we see that boy and then see ourselves as helpless in a world out of control, or question our values as individuals or as a global society. Maybe we see that picture and that brutal mirror in front of us questions if we’re as compassionate as we think we are.
When that early church welcomed the poor and desperate, it was for them a reminder of the plight of so many in the world and it caused them to confront their own mortality, brokenness, and values. Wouldn’t it be so very much easier to welcome those who confirm who we believe we are, or who we’d like to be? If we surround ourselves with healthy, happy, successful people and we might just think this is the reality for all, we might be less likely to look into a mirror that calls into question who we are. Ignorance is after all a very soft pillow on which we may rest our heads. Who in their right minds would choose to look in a mirror and say, “mirror, mirror, on the wall, where are the suffering, please show them all.”
Who would say that? Those who know that when we look into the shadows, when we look into the faces of those who are lonely, scared, poor, hungry and broken, we just might see the face of Christ. 2000 years ago, if you were looking to find Jesus, you looked wherever there were the least of these and it’s no different today. I’m sure many of you already know what I’m talking about – those times when you’ve done the unexpected, the irrational, the risky and helped someone in need; that feeling that you had deep within your soul, I like to think that this is God embracing your heart reminding you that you’re not alone in this struggle.
And when we look into that cracked and broken mirror of someones hard life and see that we too are maybe in our own way, broken, bruised and yes, even mortal, God is there too, leading us to our own healing, our own renewal, maybe even our own rebirth as Easter people.