In the retelling of the widow and her two mites the NIV Bible says that Jesus “watched the crowd putting their money in the temple treasury” the New American Standard Version actually translates that Jesus watched “how the people were putting their money in.” Jesus was not interested in how much money people were putting into the treasury instead He was interested in their demeanor as they approached. Whether they approached with proud chests and disdaining looks or whether they approached with humility and maybe even unworthiness. With the excesses that some were putting into the treasury, the widow likely felt inferior to the other givers with her two mites on that slow walk to the treasury. Though she did not have a lot the widow was compelled to give what she could even though in the giving, she showed herself as poor. So with her judgmental peers looking on, that two mite approach to the treasury took a million dollars’ worth of courage.
A similar feeling of inferiority to that of the widow plagues every human. Alfred Adler, one of the founders of modern psychology, called this feeling, the inferiority complex. This complex characterizes the individual belief that we are somehow less deserving of love and blessing than the rest of humanity. We often compensate for this inferiority feeling by dreaming up ways, or even manipulating our environment so that others will seem beneath us, and that we are superior. Adler called this the fictional goal of superiority. The goal is fictional because in reality we are all equal here on earth, a fraternity of inferior feeling people trying to feel superior. Jesus’s cure for this human condition which He explains in Mark just a few lines before the retelling of the widow and her two mites, is this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Adler’s terms this is saying, there is only One who is superior so love the one God like nothing else, the rest of humanity including yourself are equal, so love them in kind.
Yosemite Sam is not a lover of his fellow man but is a classic character with an inferiority complex. He carries two big pistols to compensate for his lack of size. He carries an aggressive attitude to compensate for his lack of charm and wit. He does everything he can to get rid of anyone who makes him feel inferior, not as smart, not as tough, not as able. Adler believed this sense of inferiority was a driving force inside the mind of every human. The gospel points to the same idea as well when it encourages everyone to stop trying to impress and instead be genuine and embrace others as brothers and sisters. Jesus understood that insecurity could lead into dangerous places, like it does for Yosemite Sam. I counseled a Yosemite Sam once, and he was a jerk too, a scared and insecure jerk.
My Yosemite Sam, whom I will call Sam, had an inferiority complex that had its origin in the expectations of his father. Sam himself was quite successful, a great athlete, student, and socialite but always hopelessly insecure that he was not successful enough for his father’s liking. His insecurity caused him to constantly compare himself to others and to bash the efforts and accomplishments of others in order to make his own seem more impressive. And as much as Sam tore down others he hated himself for it afterwards. This self-hatred birthed a bitterness that smoked into every part of his life. The bitterness made it even more difficult for Sam to change. It increased his feeling of inferiority and drove his quest for superiority even harder.. Consequently, others disconnected from him because no one wanted to be belittled by him. Following from that Sam became a lonely insecure jerk and he was getting tired.
Sam was tired because the only thing more tiring than the burden of inferiority is the quest for superiority. Every human seeks to seemingly rise above all others in terms of success in order to quell that pestering feeling of inferiority. We use guns to feel superior, money, bling, beauty, luxury, even things like social justice, humility and generosity can have roots in the quest for superiority. The Bible would call it pride driving us to the church treasury with a bag of excess money while the widow behind has only two pennies clinking together. Unfortunately, the fictional goal of superiority does not make it necessary that we meet our potential or even that we find the zone of God’s will, it only demands that we do better than those immediately around us or at least make believe we are.
This quest for superiority is why Sam wore the brand named clothing that only those who traveled Europe could find or even afford. Sam’s latest A on a test or trophy from a big win or an enviable sexual escapade, were always frequent topics of conversation for Sam. He needed to feel above everyone around him in order to feel just fine. So Sam flaunted what he could and belittled where he needed to in order to make that point.
So how did I try to help Sam? First thing I did was to try really hard to show him he was a jerk. This was actually surprisingly easy. What was really difficult was trying to teach Sam that he was no worse than anyone else. I did not have to therapeutically, take him off his pedestal; I had to soulfully help him step up to the God given level of human being. I do not think that the quest for superiority will ever die in Sam nor will it die in any of us. Yet, if we keep our eyes on God and battle the pride within, our inevitable efforts toward superiority can become efforts in the Lord’s will and efforts for the good of humanity.
"In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."
If every story of oppression is revisited in the light inferiority and superiority we see them for what they were and are, an attempt of one group to feel superior to another group by subjugating them. This attempt is of course driven not only by the need to feel powerful but the deep sense of weakness, inferiority. The slavery of the Jews in Egypt is one such example. And God ended the hardship of His people by bringing to Pharaoh a Jewish leader who was one of his oppressed while also one of his brothers, a leader who was a slave and a prince. So it is today, the slave is our brother, their suffering is our suffering and our joy should be there’s as well. For we are all human and created equal, we must strive to live out equality. The work of God’s people as N.T. Wright would say is to “model genuine humanness as a sign and an invitation to those around us.” (The Challenge of Jesus) And in the modeling we could all get closer to loving our neighbours as ourselves, and so quicken the Kingdom of God.
My client Sam, Yoesemite Sam, Sam I am, they are really just jerks like the rest of us. Really Sam I am let it go. He does not like green eggs and ham, stop trying to prove your superiority over him by disproving his conviction that he does not like green eggs and ham. This berating is only driven by your inner feeling of inferiority Sam I am. But Sam I am is no different than anyone. The inferiority feelings and the quest for superiority are what makes us all tick. The only escape is to seek to love God above all others and to love your neighbour as yourself. This is the truth that most of all will spend the rest of our lives trying to live out, that we are all created equal and the only success that you can ever truly achieve is the success that elevates others and hastens the Kingdom of God. I was hungry and you fed me, I was cold and you sheltered me, these are the successes that spill from a good and faithful servant.