“The Narcissism of Small Differences”

by Steve Kindle

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48

On its surface, the command to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” seems unrealistic and ultimately an impossibility. How can anyone be as perfect as God? It turns out that it’s not as difficult as it looks.

My last sermon before the pandemic was “Let Jesus Sleep.” I examined the difference between “faith in Jesus” and the “faith of Jesus”. If we are saved by “faith in Jesus,” our salvation depends on claiming Jesus as our savior. This takes a transactional form whereby if I do something (confess), God will do something (save me). If we are saved by “the faith of Jesus,” we are saved by appropriating the faith Jesus had in God as our own. This is not a transaction, but a way of life that transforms. I opted for the latter. This text from Matthew illustrates how Jesus’ faith in God worked its way out in his relationship to others. It is a good illustration of how appropriating this same faith can change how we look at others.

The story of Adam and Eve teaches us that we all desire to be the one and only authority over our lives and that anything that stands in its way, even God, must take a back seat.  So, we look at that which makes us unique and conclude that that is the best of all possibilities and that all else is inferior. It’s a form of narcissism that promotes self over others.

It is a “narcissism of small differences” that promotes the color of one’s skin over another.  It is a “narcissism of small differences” that promotes a nationality over another.  It is a “narcissism of small differences” that promotes one denomination over another.  It is a “narcissism of small differences” that promotes hate, war, revenge and petty conflict over neighborliness and love. 

Yet, it was God who created differences. These differences were not created to become enemies of one another.  They were created for all to enjoy as gifts to each other.

This is what I love so much about America.  It’s a microcosm of the world.  Every kind of human is here, and in abundance.  This is something to celebrate.  But the “narcissism of small differences” is at work here too.  They would have us obscure our differences as though they are an embarrassment.  But God wants us to celebrate them. 

This is why I prefer the metaphor of America as a chef salad, not pureed soup (melting pot). We’re all in the same bowl together, covered by the dressing that is America, but tossed together in a way where we are still recognizable in our glorious differences. 

It’s time to celebrate our differences as God’s gifts to us, rather than resent or denigrate them.  Then we will be obedient to Jesus’ vision that all his followers will be perfect as God is perfect.

You see, God sends the rain on the just and the unjust and makes the sun shine on the evil and the good.  To be perfect, then, is to regard all as worthy, worthy of God’s love and ours, too.

PRAYER
We pray, O God, that you forgive us of the idolatry of self over others. Help us to see the value of others not like ourselves, how they can enrich our lives, and how we might be of value in theirs. This perfection is not beyond our reach if we follow the lead of Jesus into our world. AMEN 

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