In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’ He goes on to remark that the people thought John the Baptist was crazy because he did not eat or drink, yet when Jesus both ate and drank they called Him a glutton and a drunkard. (see Matt 11:16-19).
Indeed, this world has many contradictory and bewildering standards.
One of the great human struggles is to become free from being defined by others, from being so much under the world’s judgment that we lack any personal conviction or deep, stable, and serene core.
An old African proverb says “If I don’t know who I am, anyone can name me.”
Somewhere in the midst of the world’s demands for conformity to its ephemeral standards, each of us must come to know the man or woman that God created us to be.
This does not mean, particularly in youth, that we do not seek guidance from people (especially elders) whom we trust. But in the end, there must be that very private journey with God that every human person makes. It is the journey to discover one’s true self, as God gently reveals.
It is to this deep truth that Jesus refers in the gospel referenced above. The world cannot be our measure. Too often its standards are passing, foolish, and highly inconsistent. To hearken to its cacophonous voice is a sure invitation to high anxiety and deep inner conflict.
There is a saying, A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.
Jesus, too, warns, “No one can serve two masters.” But, sadly, most of us try. And frankly, it is not merely two masters but two hundred.
Not so with Jesus.
Jesus resisted and even defied most of the ways in which people tried to define him. He was the Messiah, but He would not be the Messiah in any way they understood. He would not ride in on a war horse and usher in a bloodbath. He would not follow a career of conquest. He would die as a suffering servant. Neither would He simply be reduced to being the Bread King (Jn 6:15) or the medical miracle worker (Mk 1:38). Jesus was sure to hit the road and move on to the next town before He would let others label him as such. He came to bear witness to the truth and to save us, not so much from economic calamity, health problems, or political enemies, but rather from our very selves, from our own sinfulness.
No, Jesus would not be defined by this world. He was free from its grip; it had no power over Him. And to that same freedom the Lord ultimately summons us.
To be sure, this personal journey with the Lord, this journey to discover our true self, is not an invitation to hideous idiosyncrasies and sociopathic behavior. Holiness may in fact, and often does, startle this world. But it is not unnecessarily disruptive; it is not simply “weird.” Discovering our true self leads to serenity, a peace that this world cannot give, but also a peace that it cannot deny.
So, a man with one watch knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never quite sure.
Whom are you watching? What time is it in your life? Is it a time of teenage conformity and capitulation to peer pressure? Or is it a time of serene and mature self understanding, rooted in the Father?