Last but not Least
Remember what Jesus said about the first being last and the last being first; that whoever wants to be first must be slave of all?1 Have you noticed that this is not a philosophy we tend to live by?
Most of the time we are out there with the rest of them, scrambling for our place in the sun. We are running as hard as we can to make absolutely sure that it is someone else, and not us, who is last.
All too often we take the easy option and put Scriptures like Mark 10:44 into the "Yeah, but he couldn't have really meant it" category along with large chunks of the Sermon on the Mount. But Jesus lived as if he meant what he said. We do not see him jockeying for first place or craving attention - in fact he does quite the opposite.
Our need to be 'first' - to look good, to be thought of as a nice person - is the basis of much of our interaction with one another. The protection of our good name - of the image we have so carefully constructed for ourselves - is a high priority even when we are not consciously aware of it. Just notice your reaction the next time you are unjustly criticised, or when a piece of gossip concerning you does the rounds.
Yet the Scripture gives us a directive guaranteed to burst the bubble we so carefully build around ourselves, and put our feet firmly back on the ground where they belong. It tells us to confess our sins to one another.2
We seldom do this. Instead we prefer to hide our sins. We want to pretend that we are essentially sinless. Given the choice, we would rather look 'perfect' to one another than sinful. Admitting our sin to others lowers our status in their eyes. We run the risk of losing our reputation as 'mature' Christians.
And there is another reason for our hesitation to share our sin. We are afraid of letting the side down. We have heard so many times that a Christian is a new creation: the old has passed away and now we walk in victory, that when we don't feel particularly victorious we are tempted to keep that information to ourselves.
The fact is that we don't always walk in victory just because we are Christians. As American author Philip Yancey, has pointed out, Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. He wouldn't have done that if we didn't need comforting.
In inviting us to confess our sins to one another, the Scripture provides the means by which we can regularly remove our masks and share our weaknesses, showing ourselves as we really are, in all our vulnerability.
My interview with Geoff Bullock was, for him, an exercise in vulnerability. Two hours before we met, Geoff had received news of his brother in law's suicide. He and his wife were flying home on the first available flight, but first he had to get through his Wellington concert, for which people were already queuing.
Geoff graciously offered to continue with the interview in spite of the circumstances. In his grief he was less guarded than he might otherwise have been. As I listened to him recount the events of the last few years I came to respect this man who had known adulation as well as scorn.
It is very humbling, and a great privilege, to sit with someone as they share their story, failings and all, especially when they are raw and hurting because recent events have depleted their defences. Such an experience is very precious, not least because of its rarity - we seldom get to see each other being vulnerable.
And yet people who are prepared to share their areas of weakness - to take their 'skin' off and remove their masks - are so winsome. As they admit their mistakes and inadequacies, something very real, very human, comes to the fore. In their vulnerability, they are gentled down and tender. In their brokenness we see the person God loves in spite of everything, and we too are drawn to them in love.
When we let our masks fall, when we stop trying to 'hold it all together' - to be what we think 'successful' looks like - we become so much more accessible to others than when we have all the barriers up trying to be what we think others expect us to be.
Learning to confess our sins to one another might be one of the hardest things God asks of us, but it is a practice which brings great rewards.