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Lenten Lectionary | Are You Angry When Your Cheese is Moved?

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Editor’s note: This is the first article in a weekly “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2020. Each week, we will have an article reflecting on some of the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. For this week, we will have today’s reflection on Ash Wednesday, as well as a second piece tomorrow engaging Sunday’s lectionary texts.

What do cheese, mice and mazes have to do with our journey through the Lenten season?

Spenser Johnson’s book, “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life,” is a business fable that explores how people respond to change when it enters their lives.

Four characters, two mice and two “little people,” live in a maze and spend their days trying to find cheese. As the book begins, there had been an abundance of cheese to eat, but one day the cheese ran out.

The mice are not surprised at these circumstances and go out looking for more cheese.

The humans, on the other hand, are angry and wonder, “Who moved my cheese?” Instead of searching for more cheese, they return home hungry and frustrated.

The remainder of the book is about how each character adapts, or fails to adapt, to change.

Ultimately, the mice do very well for themselves because they have anticipated the idea that one day the cheese might run out. The humans struggle because they never thought about this possibility.

The book reminds us change is not always easy to adapt to and it does not usually come at a convenient time. When change comes, we sometimes take our fear or frustration out on those closest to us.

That’s what happened to the characters in the book. Instead of sticking together through change, they separated because one of them allowed himself to become paralyzed by change, while the other was able to overcome his fears and move forward.

This is like what happened between Paul and the church at Corinth.

Internal and external change was regularly occurring, and the people within that local congregation began to act differently toward Paul and each other.

Negative people within their community used Paul’s continuing absence from them as an opportunity to discredit his leadership. As a result, they no longer treated Paul, or each other, in the same loving way as in the past.

In response, Paul wrote them several letters expressing his frustration toward how they were acting and his hopes for restoration of relationships to occur.

In the letter we now call 2 Corinthians, Paul went to great lengths to get them to focus on Jesus the Christ and the change he had brought about in their lives.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 took the focus off his readers and their unique idiosyncrasies and placed the focus on Jesus, what he had done for them, and how his sacrifice should have positively changed how they interacted with each other.

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, they had the opportunity not only to be reconciled to God, but also to each other, as well.

Their views of, and interactions with, each other should have changed to reflect how God wanted them to see each other and act.

God’s grace as evidenced in Jesus was the full initiation of reconciliation between God and humankind and between human to human.

As God had forgiven humankind through Jesus, humans could practice the same forgiveness with each other.

Paul’s words about Jesus’ sacrificial act of reconciliation lead to multiple questions we can consider for ourselves and our relationships today:

  • Are we actively showing the same grace to others that has been shown to us?
  • Is it always someone else’s responsibility to reach out to us for forgiveness or are we responsible for initiating the act of reconciliation with others?
  • Do we hold grudges against other people while still requiring other people to forgive us for our trespasses?
  • Do we see ourselves as being sinless and near perfect, consistently pointing out the flaws of other people while overlooking our own shortcomings?

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded we are not perfect. That is why we all needed redemption and restoration to our Creator.

Although we are not perfect, we are blessed because God has overlooked our imperfections and intentionally decided to love us unconditionally.

As our nation and communities continue to deal with the political, social and economic uncertainties that are ever present, we have the privilege to live intentionally in ways that are different from “the world.”

Instead of seeing anyone whom we have disagreed with as an enemy, we can determine to live into a vision that is gospel centered – a vision where we actively seek to be reconciled with others as God sought to be reconciled to us, and we see ourselves as God sees us as well as seeing others as God sees them, loved and forgiven and worthy of being in relationship with.

Instead of giving up chocolate or skipping lunch as an act of sacrifice, we can give up our superiority complexes and fully live into the type of love that was given for us so many years ago.

Terrell Carter

Terrell Carter is vice president of community life and chief diversity officer at Greenville University in Greenville, Illinois, and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church. His most recent books are "Learning to Be the Church in a New World: Recognizing and Overcoming the Challenges to Organized Faith in the 21st Century" and "Police on a Pedestal: Responsible Policing in a Culture of Worship."