For over ten years our family has watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve. This heartwarming classic demonstrates how one unselfish person can improve the lives of numerous others. As in countless movies and books, there is also a self-centered antagonist who shows the opposite effect. Henry F. Potter, the wealthy and bitter businessman and thorn in the side of the Bailey Building and Loan, occupies slot number 6 on the American Film Institute’s list of the fifty greatest villains in movie history. Potter mistakenly believes he is the richest man in town but viewers learn that from a nonmaterial standpoint this honor actually belongs to George Bailey. The hero forsakes his dreams of an exciting job and travel in order to offer loans and affordable housing to people in the small town of Bedford Falls. In “A Christmas Carol” the cold-hearted miser named Ebenezer Scrooge exemplifies an attitude toward the poor and working class similar to that of Potter. Both men show no empathy or generosity towards those in reduced circumstances and purposefully keep the lower class down.
In Jane Austen’s novels she analyzes the pretensions of those who perceive themselves superior to others. Typically her heroines, lacking high rank/station and social connections, possess great virtue and ability and end up with kind, wealthier husbands. This is a recurring theme throughout literature.
God incarnate entered the world in the most unlikely of ways. Jesus was born to an unwed mother and was raised in humble circumstances. From a societal perspective this was scandalous. As an adult Jesus associated with outcasts and taught lessons that shook the status quo. Instead of fulfilling the Jewish image of the conquering Messiah, Jesus came wielding not a sword but a basin and a towel to wash the disciples’ feet.
We read this in Luke 14:12-14 “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
James writes “My brothers and sisters, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a person comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor person, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)
The apostle Paul describes reasons he could have for confidence in the flesh, a Hebrew of Hebrews and of a fine lineage attached to Pharisaic traditions. In Philippians 3:8 he says he considers all of that a loss compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” his Lord.
Undoubtedly we have witnessed the damaging effects of those who feel they must prove their worth after having been looked down upon because of family circumstances. None of us can take credit or blame for the particulars of our birth or upbringing. Before God we are all on equal footing and should treat one another with respect and kindness.