A Popularity Contest Fixed in Our Favor

Anyone who doubts the relevance of the scriptures to modern life should come to mass once in a while and listen carefully. This Sunday’s readings echo the news of the week. I just saw a network news story on how teenagers are going online to a site where they can post their picture and find out if anonymous strangers find them attractive. This is typical of adolescents in high school who yearn for validation from their peers. At that age, life is a popularity contest. The relevance to today’s readings?

Listen to what Paul tells the Corinthians in our second reading:

“It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.”

At this stage in his letters to the Church in Corinth he was dealing with a popularity contest among the people. Not only did Paul have his fans, but so did colleagues like Apollos, who built on the church Paul established there. And Paul noticed people were lining up behind favorites among Christ’s disciples. Here’s an excerpt from another of Paul’s letters about this very trend:

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?”

This is a great teachable moment for parents dealing with teens whose goal in life is to be popular. Paul’s point is that only God has the right to judge our character. Paul’s goal was not popularity, but to spread God’s good news that the kingdom of God is open to everyone with the faith to believe our Creator loves us enough to let us in.

And here’s where today’s mass offers advice for parents themselves, as well. When one becomes an adult, the worldly desire for popularity remains—it just shifts to the workplace, and even to one’s own family, where the “want” to be popular with one’s kids can overshadow the “need” to parent them. A parent’s worries also advance to worldly sustenance. “Will I be able to feed and clothe my family if I lose popularity at work and then lose my job?”

Here’s what Jesus has to say about that in today’s gospel reading from Matthew:

“Why are you anxious about clothes?…
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’…
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.”

The Kingdom of God is easy to find. It’s found in the knowledge that we are God’s children—and we are very popular with him.

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