A sixth parable: In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep depicts fashion mogul and long-time Vogue editor Anna Wintour–though her character has a different name in the film, of course (the real-life parallels are too blaring to be ignored). A young, idealistic journalist, Andy (played by Anne Hathaway), desperate to get an “in” anywhere in the writing world, takes a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly–Meryl Streep’s character.
Early in the film, there’s a scene in which the staff is agonizing over which turquoise belt to use in a shoot; witnessing the turmoil, Andy scoffs. Ms. Streep turns her venomous tongue on Andy, delivering a powerful monologue tracing the history of the frumpy sweater which Andy proudly sports as a sort of anti-fashion statement.
So it is in the Kingdom of God. (see yesterday’s Gospel lesson: Matthew 13:31-33 & 44-52)
Sometimes we mistakenly think that it is our accomplishments or our self-made worthiness that elicits God’s response in becoming incarnate and eventually dying to stay with us. It is not because there is something intrinsically superior about me, or you; it is because Jesus chose us.
Our worth comes from the price which has been paid for each of us–every person has a market value that is equivalent to Jesus’ life–our deepest identity is that we are loved by God. We are really not such impressive, fantastic people; how exhausting it is to pretend that we are–how frustrating and tiresome to always try to work yourself up to perform and behave relying on your own steam and goodness!
If, however, our energy, our hope, our “steam” comes from finding ourselves only in what God has told us, we are free from being impressive, trying to achieve God’s love, or others’ acceptance.
We are both the cerulean sweater, and Andy, the idealistic journalist. There’s nothing intrinsically better or more impressive about cerulean versus navy or lapis or even kelly green–the only thing that sets the cerulean sweater apart is that Miranda Priestly chose it. The only thing that sets any one of us apart, that makes any one of us special, is that Jesus chose each of us–not that any one is particularly exceptional in and of themselves. And we’re like Andy because we often think we’re in control of our own fashion–or our own image, or lives!–but really, we aren’t. If we stake our image, our understanding of ourselves on anything other than being God’s child, being the one for whom Jesus sacrificed himself, then we won’t ever be at peace.
Matthew 13:44: “‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
The Good News is that looking at ourselves honestly, rightly, allows us to see our shortcomings, admit to them, own up to our sinfulness, and to still know that we are the field, the pile of dirt, that Jesus has joyfully bought with everything that he has. I think it’s not a coincidence that a field, a pile of dirt, doesn’t do anyone much good unless life is put in it somehow–if someone plants it (as many of the parables surrounding this verse describe), or if, as in Genesis 1, God’s own breath–ruah–is blown into the pile of dirt, animating it, making it live (making it into us, into humanity). Without God’s breath, God’s spirit, God’s energy and hope, we are just piles of dirt, but with God, because of God’s sacrifice of love for us, we are made free and alive and full of color.
May we be free from the expectations and achievements which this world–and we ourselves!–puts on us, knowing that our life, our worth, our very breath, comes only from God.