I used to envy those who appeared to have been born with silver spoons in their mouths. They had everything going for them, they didn’t want for anything, and their life-style always seemed to me to be exotic and sophisticated.
But as I’ve grown older I’ve discovered that such people are no happier than anyone else, and that life’s problems affect them just as much as they affect the rest of us. Nobody is immune from trouble, and now I often feel quite sorry for those who are born into wealth and privilege, because so much is expected of them, yet their silver spoon seldom gives them the tools for dealing with trouble when it arises.
The Royal Family are perhaps the most obvious example of this. They’re born into such privilege that to a large extent they can ignore any worries over material needs, yet they’re no more successful at real life than the rest of us, and indeed, are rather less successful than many.
Their golden heritage doesn’t automatically confer happiness upon them, and their troubles have been so public that the whole world knows about them. Princess Diana, the girl who was made into a fairy tale by all of us when she married Prince Charles, turned out to be living in the fairy tale from hell. The two young princes lost their mother when they were at a very vulnerable age.
It’s hardly a catalogue of delights, yet I still sometimes catch myself thinking that they ought to do better, that they’ve had the sort of opportunities all the rest of us can only dream about, so why don’t they use those opportunities properly? But in my more rational moments I’m aware that the expectations piled upon them by society are probably more than any human being can stand, and the pressure of being constantly in the limelight might well cause contrary reactions within them.
Perhaps, then, it’s at least partly understandable if those with a silver spoon make a few mistakes like the rest of us, especially when they’re young. But it does seem that there are those in the public gaze who constantly court personal disaster by their behaviour. It’s as though they find it so difficult to handle their fame or privilege that they deliberately sabotage themselves and although at the top of their particular field, cause themselves to fail. There are a so many celebrities who turn to drugs or alcohol and who eventually ruin their promising lives and sink into sad obscurity. It all seems such a tragic waste of golden opportunities.
Paul saw the Jews as something like this. Right from the beginning of time, they had everything going for them, because God himself was with them, offering to lead them and guide them in the way they should go. As the Chosen People they were born with spiritual silver spoons in their mouths. But in Paul’s eyes, not only had they failed to take advantage of their position, they had also rejected their Messiah, God become human in Jesus Christ.
According to Paul in today’s reading from Romans, the whole history of God with humanity has belonged to the Jews. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all.
What more could anyone want to set them on the right spiritual track? Yet the Jews rejected Jesus and ignored his teaching. Paul felt so bad about this that he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Believing that his fellow Jews were cursed through being cut off from Christ, he claims that if he could, he’d take that fate upon himself, for their sake. But like the celebrities who ruin their own lives by driving headlong into disaster, so the Jews then were unable to see how to save themselves, or even to recognise that they need saving.
That was where the Jews stood in the first century. But are Paul’s words only written to the Jews of the first century, or do they have anything to say to us today in the 21st century?
Those of us born into Christian families have all been born with spiritual silver spoons which are even more solid silver than those of the first century Jews, for we’ve inherited nearly two thousand years of tradition honouring Jesus and teaching us all about him. Even those in the West who are not born into a Christian family are born into a Christian nation, with Christian values which are so ingrained into the national psyche that they’re enshrined in our laws.
And we’ve all been born into educational opportunities, so that nearly all of us can read and write and can learn about God and about Jesus for ourselves. We don’t have to wait for someone to tell us, we can discover any information we need simply by visiting the local library or tuning into the Internet.
We have all the advantages. We can go for broke, going all out to win the race of life, this race in which everyone can be a winner since it’s not a competition. We can all be winners, by following Jesus and absorbing all the gifts God is longing to shower upon us. Or we can throw away our advantages and ruin our chances by only paying lip service to Christianity and by failing to allow God to really influence our lives.
We can either experience eternal life, life in all its excitement and wonder and delight, which God has waiting for us right now and in its entirety after death, or we can settle for the comfortable and undemanding and non-spiritual life which society practices. The former will bring us into direct contact with God, where we can speak with God and listen to God’s responses and follow Jesus. The latter, will remove us from the sphere of God’s influence, so that we only pretend to speak with God and we never hear his response and we don’t really follow Jesus.
So what will you do with your silver spoon? Use it or lose it?