One of my all-time favorite musicals is “West Side Story.”  Not only have I seen it on TV multiple times but I had the great fortune to see it on Broadway a few years ago.  I had an LP of the soundtrack when I was growing up and I nearly have the entire musical memorized word for word.  It’s such a classic; a wonderful, 20th century take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

There is a particular scene that recently came to mind.  Tony and Maria have just met at a school dance.  With one single look from across the crowded gymnasium their hearts collide and after a brief, albeit interrupted dance, their lives were forever connected.  There is just one problem:  their love is forbidden.  They find themselves in the midst of a culture that is divided.  Their families, their friends, their loved ones are on opposing sides of this hostile environment.  Tony, once a top leader of his gang (the Jets) has his sights now set on love, and Maria alone is the object of his affection.  Maria, who is the younger sister of the Shark’s gang leader, only has eyes for Tony, completely blinded to the fact that he is one of “them,” a Jet.  In spite of the trouble their relationship may cause, they pledge their love to one another and make plans to meet the following day.  Maria asks Tony to come to the bridal shop she works at after her co-workers have left and Tony agrees.

It’s that scene just before the shop closes and Tony arrives that recently came to mind.  Maria is glowing, somewhat day dreaming about her new found love and her co-workers notice the change in her.  Although she wants to tell them her secret she can’t bring herself to do it.  She knows they won’t truly understand.  Instead she breaks into song proclaiming, “I feel pretty.  Oh so, pretty.”   Through the brilliant lyrics of Leonard Bernstein, Maria exclaims,

See the pretty girl in that mirror there:
Who can that attractive girl be?
Such a pretty face
Such a pretty dress
Such a pretty smile
Such a pretty me!

She explains that the reason for her mood and sudden outburst is because she is loved “by a pretty wonderful boy.”  But her song isn’t about Tony.  Her song is about herself.  The more she sings, the more about her, the song becomes.  She continues,

I feel pretty
Oh, so pretty
That the city should give me its key
A committee
Should be organized to honor me

I feel dizzy
I feel sunny
I feel fizzy and funny and fine
And so pretty
Miss America can just resign!

See the pretty girl in that mirror there:

[her friends answer]  What mirror where?

Who can that attractive girl be?

[her friends answer]  Which?  What?  Where?  Whom?

Such a pretty face
Such a pretty dress
Such a pretty smile
Such a pretty me!

Self-centered much?  Even her friends acknowledge, this isn’t the Maria they know.  The quiet, humble, demure Maria is simply “out of her mind!”  What has driven her to this place?  Is it just the sudden rush of emotion brought on by a first love?  Is it the fact that she knows their love is forbidden in the hostile divided culture in which they live?  Or is it the idea of finally breaking free from the good little girl image she found herself trapped within for so many years?  We may never know the answer, but I believe there is a lesson to learn from Maria.

My last few blog posts have been about all of the unrest we are seeing in our world today.  We’re all feeling the threads of our national fabric giving way, tearing across polar opposite extremes.  We’re seeing daily protests of all kinds, both sides utilizing their right to demonstrate and make public their stance.  We’re watching some step well beyond their rights and willfully committing crimes against property and people in the name of their cause.  We’re even seeing pastors and churches defying governmental orders in order to maintain their religious liberty.  The great melting pot of America has been stirred and we’re all feeling it.

As believers we do have to be cautious about getting caught up in and carried away by all the division.  I do believe unity, especially within the Bride of Christ, should always be our goal.  But, as believers, we also need to be prepared for what we will face as followers of Jesus.  God has promised us that we will face adversity, persecution even, because of our relationship with Him.  He has also promised to not only prepare us for that adversity but equip us as well.  He has given us spiritual armor to wear (Ephesians 6:10-18) not so that we can sit on the sidelines in safety, but so that He can send us out to accomplish His mission in the midst of a hostile world.   He expects us to stand up for our relationship with Him and to be willing to share that relationship with others so that they too will know His love.  We are His Bride, and we are to be found ready when The Bridegroom returns.  But being ready for His return means that we are not entranced by the vision of ourselves in the mirror.

In Luke 10 we read about Jesus sending out 72 of His followers to the nearby towns and villages that He was going to visit.  They were to go there to heal the sick and to tell people that the Kingdom of God was near.  He told them that He was sending them out as lambs to the wolves.  In other words, it was going to be a hostile environment.

When these 72 people returned from their assignment their excitement was electric.

“When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, ‘Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!’” (Luke 10:17)

And I just love Jesus’ reply.

“’Yes,’ he told them, ‘I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!'”  (Luke 10:18)

If Jesus was merely a human we would call this hyperbole, but because He was also the Son of God we can take it at face value.  Can’t you just picture Him high-fiving those disciples as they came back?  As each pair began to tell Him their story He would be fully engaged with them, acknowledging their stories, having seen for Himself the spiritual repercussions of their actions.  How exciting for them to be able to share those moments with Him and know that He too had witnessed them.

But before the excitement of all they did began to avert their focus, Jesus gave them wise counsel:

“Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”  (Luke 10:19-20)

I believe Jesus was warning not only those 72 followers but His Bride as well to not get enraptured with themselves in the mirror.  It’s easy to understand how tempting it would have been to focus on and relish in the miraculous power these followers were seeing coming from their own words and actions!  It’s human nature, isn’t it?  But Jesus reminded them of where their joy and attention should be focused.  It was not in what they were able to accomplish.  It was in what they had been given: a personal relationship with God that would last for all eternity.  He turned their perspective from what they saw they were able to do, to the fact that they were the recipients of an even greater gift.  Their individual name was written in heaven’s registry.  What He had sent them out to do was never about them.  It was about Him, His love, His Kingdom, and the relationship He wanted to have with each individual in the entire world.

I think these disciples, like all of those who have come after them, may have been tempted to break into their own version of “I feel pretty.”  The intoxication of being loved by God Himself and then sent out into a hostile world to proclaim His love to others and do miraculous things on His behalf is invigorating!  But Jesus’ counsel, His shift of focus means we must have both the courage and the humility to reflect only His glory, not our own.

Like Maria and Tony, and those early disciples, we find ourselves in a hostile and divided world.  But as members of the Bride we must never lose sight of our First Love.  Unlike Maria, we have to be bold enough to declare our relationship with Him in spite of what it may cost us.  We have been given extraordinary gifts by the Holy Spirit that will not only allow us to do supernatural things but may cause many to think we’re “out of our minds.”   To whom we will credit those actions?  To whom we will credit the reason for our joy, our world view, our stance, our outlook on the future?  We cannot fall into the temptation of making it about ourselves.  As the Bride faces the adversity promised her, she cannot get caught up in how many committees have been organized to honor her, or how many keys to the city she has received.  We as believers have to realize that our purpose is not about drawing attention to ourselves or to “the Bride,” it is about reflecting the glory of the Bridegroom and drawing others to His love.

Father, your love for us is beyond our comprehension.  Your Son, our Savior Jesus, has swept us off our feet.  Thank you for your love.  Thank you for wanting your Bride to speak about your love and share it with others.  May your Kingdom grow because of what you do through us and may you alone be glorified.  Lord, bring to our attention those times that we get caught up gazing in the mirror at ourselves, when our pride gets in the way of your purpose.  Forgive us for the times that it’s easier to draw attention to ourselves than to stand up for our relationship with you.  Keep us humble.  Make the love you have for each of us be the most attractive thing about us so that others will be hungry for that same love.  Thank you Father, Son and Spirit for your love and for the power of that love.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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