Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Numbers Game

We humans love numbers. And sometimes numbers really do matter. Blood pressure matters. Temperature, be it body, outdoor, or oven...matters. Money matters. especially when there isn't enough, it seems. Weight matters...if you are on an elevator, that is (how many of us haven't done some hasty estimating and computing when stuffed cheek by jowl with 15 other people in a tiny box of steel) . Weight on the scale...doesn't matter as much...or at all (I tell myself).

We like to use numbers to count things, too. Every year I write down each book I finish. Nowadays I need this remember to what it was I actually read, brains cells being AWOL and all, but I started this practice years ago in order to have a sense of accomplishment. I needed to see that I had done something that stayed done. The more books, the more accomplished I felt. And somehow, being the insecure and flawed human being that I am, the more accomplished I felt, the better I felt. I have to justify my existence somehow. Right? Sigh.

I think it is only human nature to count. To measure. And to use those numbers to measure our worth. But I don't see this counting being anywhere in God's economy.

Eugene Peterson in The Message has an interesting take on the first few verses of John 4. The other versions I have read don't say this is actually what happened but I wouldn't doubt it, humans being what we are. We like our numbers and a good competition any day.

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. 

Keeping score. Really? Yes, really. It happens.

Churches count members and visitors and measure. All the time. It somehow determines the success of the ministry. The numbers.

And years ago I had a friend who was on staff with a campus ministry. Each Friday she had to meet with her superior and give an account of the number of people she had witnessed to and the number of converts. I think she even had a quota. As if the Kingdom of God operates on a budget. As if the hearts can be measured.

Bob Bennett nailed it.

You can show me your sales curves. Plot my life on a flow chart. You can count up your converts. And miss where it all starts. You can show me your sales curves. 
But there's just some things that numbers can't measure. These fragile pieces of priceless treasure. There's just some things that numbers can't measure.
In Matters of the Heart
Hope isn't another notch in the belt. Compassion can't be written in a ledger. The numbers game is dehumanizing. It strips us of our true worth, which can't be measured that way. We matter more than that.

I find it interesting that Jesus left all that baptizing and numbers behind and went back to Galilee.  But he went through Samaria. Where he encountered one woman. ONE. At a well. And we know how that turned out.


 

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