Another Transaction

Another Transaction

There are a great many companies that think very highly of you and all that you deserve. You deserve the best. You deserve a vacation. You deserve to splurge on this because you're worth it. Even in the midst of economic downturn, flattery remains one of the most effective psychological drivers that compounds debt. In an HSBC Direct survey conducted not long ago, forty-two percent of the consumers interviewed said they had splurged on themselves in the past month. Twenty-eight percent cited their reason for the splurge, simply "because I deserve it."(1)

Of course, each of us who has ever bought into the idea that L'Oreal thinks I am worth it or BMW believes I deserve the ultimate driving experience probably realizes that we have done exactly that: we have bought the idea, paid for both the product and the flattering suggestion. No one is giving away these things because they think we are worth it; their flattery is quite literally calculated. In effect, it's not that they think so highly of us, so much as that they want us to think highly of ourselves. Whether we see through the empty sycophancy or not, Geoff Mulgan believes it is working: "'[B]ecause you're worth it' has come to epitomise banal narcissism of early 21st century capitalism; easy indulgence and effortless self-love all available at a flick of the credit card."(2) The enticing words are an invitation to reward ourselves, and it just so happens we agree with L'Oreal that we're worth it—and they're glad.

There is of course much that can be drawn from reflecting on the intemperate desires of a consumer culture, and the season of Lent, as some attempt to resist some of their own intemperate desires, provides the space and invitation to do so. The days before Easter present the world with an opportunity to strip away the psychological drivers of empty flattery and consumer seduction. And while the worldview of a consumer may not be as easily shed as chocolate or shopping, the message of the cross gives a startling commentary on a similar kind of compliment, but a very different transaction. Choosing the cross, Christ has indeed proclaimed our worth, but there is nothing required to accept the unfathomable gesture. In fact, there is nothing one could bring to Good Friday that would ever cover the cost. Christ has both given the affirmation and paid for it in full.

Accepting this undeserved accolade requires a dismissal of the very banal narcissism that epitomizes our numbed consumer hearts. When it comes down to it, we may find that we in fact prefer the consumer transaction, that there is something comforting and familiar in paying for our sense of worth and value. We might find it baffling to accept the idea that something deemed a gift could come to us broken. Or maybe it is the personal nature of his brokenness that we find altogether unnerving—namely, he was not simply broken, he was broken for you. It is far easier to accept an empty compliment.

Yet in these days before Easter, we are given good reason to try out the harder road. With the worth of the world in mind, Jesus chose such a path himself. He took the way of the cross, and he did not come down except to go to the grave. Of course, if God could raise him from the cold tomb, God could certainly have empowered him to step down from the cross. In the very public viewing of his own crucifixion, he could have come down in glory and power for all to see. It would have silenced the chief priests and the soldiers; it would have proved that he was not a force to be trifled with. And it would have made him a God to whom we could not say no, even if it was only to say yes out of fear or force. No instead, he was fully broken for you. He was brought down from the cross with the dead weight of lifelessness. He was crushed and he was buried. When we are battered by the great despairs of the world, when we take the piece of broken bread into our hands and are given strength for the journey, when we turn to him with nothing to give but love, we know why.

It is a transaction that makes every other seem empty, narcissistic, or fleeting at best. And it is worth expending everything to claim it. In my hand no price I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.

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