3 Aug, Saturday – On Saving Face

3 Aug 2019

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Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said:

‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.

‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.

‘Face’ or ‘mian zi’, I have discovered, is not just a Chinese infirmity. I used to think that it was just us who were obsessed with ‘mian zi’. Since coming to America though, I’ve realized that it affects all universally. Other people just have different names for it, e.g. pride. At the root of ‘mian zi’ lies deep-seated cultural attitudes about respect –- who gets it, who gives it, whether it has been earned, whether it can be earned, what one has to do to earn it, what happens when it is lost, etc

The need for ‘mian zi’ can compel people to do extreme things. I broke off an engagement with a man who was perfect on paper because his parents disrespected me and my family. They showed us no ‘mian zi’ because we had no money and no social standing. When it came down to it, I couldn’t contemplate a marriage without mutual respect; so I packed up, moved abroad and started a new life.

Since coming to America, I’ve heard versions of my own story, told to me by people from every demographic of American life – Chinese, Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, straight, lesbian, gay, you name it! The need to be shown respect, the need to be shown ‘face’ is a universal affliction. Just like I did, people will reboot their lives because of it. Sometimes things work out for the better — I would have been trapped in a loveless marriage if I had stayed. Other times, the relentless need to be shown ‘mian zi’ can rob you of your soul. In Herod’s case, it was more important to ‘save face’ than to save an innocent life. Overcome with pride and lust for Herodias’ daughter, he allowed himself to be manipulated into a corner, one he couldn’t back out of without a huge ‘loss of face’. In the end, John the Baptist lost his life. Herod though, lost something more valuable – his peace and his soul.

We all seem to take offence a lot more easily these days. You hear of fights breaking out at shopping malls and parking lots, of people getting shot and killed because someone was rude to them or disrespected them or ‘flipped them off’. We have no tolerance for being disrespected. Extreme actions have far-reaching consequences though. Taking a leaf out of Herod’s book, let’s all exercise a little caution the next time we go chasing after ‘mian zi’. It’s important we don’t lose sight of the things that truly matter while we’re busy saving ‘face’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern wisely, between the things that are of this world and the things that truly matter.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the source of wisdom, that allows us to make good decisions. We pray that God save us from ourselves and our impulses.

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