Loving human praise more than God's glory
I have lost count of the numerous ways that our media-driven culture has made us able both to follow the lives of the famous (and sometimes rich), and to aspire, perhaps with some luck and a good agent, to become famous (and possibly rich) ourselves along the way. Reality television shows have accelerated and expanded that culture of aspiring fame, to the point that fame for the most part is not so much about being excellent at your art or expressing great talent....you just have to possess a life that makes "good television." The downside to this current state of celebrity-centered culture is that we can too easily lose our sense of our own connections to life, creation and God along the way.
There is a line in today's chapter from John that continues to haunt me: "They believed [in Jesus], but they loved human praise more than the glory of God." I am sure that the evangelist's cynicism over how he perceived Jesus' rejection at the hands of the local population feeds into this observation...but in that statement, he is also framing a context by which we can see Jesus' time in Jerusalem during the Passover in a wider context. This is not just the crowd's rejection of a country preacher during festival in the big city. The turning away from God's glory is a pervasive theme throughout: from Judas criticizing Mary for the extravagant anointing of Jesus with most of a costly jar of nard, to the autograph-seeking Greeks, to the sad rejection of Jesus by people who believed, but feared ejection from the synagogues by hard-line Pharisees.
It is all too human, and we cannot be surprised that the rejection of the Son of Man happens with such alacrity after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Rather than bridling against that, or rejecting the people who struggle with loving human praise more than God's glory we might instead embrace the fact that today is very much like yesterday. Our culture is driven by celebrity, and we must continue (as humans have throughout history) to temper that indulgence with an adherence to seeking God's glory as the higher call. Succumbing to the culture of celebrity means giving ourselves over not to God but to being willing to live in the shadow of another person's life.
Today there is no more profound illustration of that temptation to give our lives over to celebrity rather than to God's glory than the account of the fall of Samson. He falls in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah, who in turn succumbs to a bribe from people hoping that he will reveal to her the secret of his strength. After a lot of bantering, he tells her the truth. After a haircut, the story would appear to be over and Samson has fallen from notoriety and fame, into slavery and the ridicule of his conquerors. It is only when he returns to God and gives God the glory that he finds his strength again. It was never his, but God's--and towards God's purpose. When he forsakes fame for God's glory, then God through Samson claims victory.
Sadly, that victory in Judges entails the deaths of the Philistines and Samson...
By God's love and grace, much more than the death of enemies will be accomplished through Jesus; but for that we will have to wait for another day. For today, let us seek God's glory...that is challenge enough.