In junior high, I was in the musical, The King and I, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical based on the life of a half-Indian, half-British, widowed school teacher, Anna Leonowens, who is enlisted to teach the many children of Siam’s King Mongkut in 1862. One of the tragic side stories involves the recent gift from Burma’s King of the young slave, soon-to-be-wife, Tuptim, and a young scholar, Lun Tha, who accompanied her on the journey. They fall in love, but King Mongkut now owns her (I mean, has married her, becoming one of his many wives) and Lun Tha will be executed if the King discovers their love.
When Tuptim is presented to the King, he looks her over and says he is pleased with her. When she finds Lun Tha later, she tells him about the encounter and scoffs, “he is pleased with me.” And then sings, “He is pleased with me, my lord and master. Declares he’s pleased with me. What could he mean? What does he know of me, my lord and master?” Reassuring Lun Tha that the King might own her body, but does not own her heart.
I always think of this when I read the Matthew passage. Because, language is fluid, shifting, changing, imprecise; and words can indicate one thing in one situation and something entirely different – a sarcasm, metaphor – in another. And because, even though Tuptim makes light of it, there is a resonance deep within.
One of our basest, barest needs is that those whom we respect, whose gaze it matters to be subject of, are pleased with us. Not disappointed in us. Approve of us.
We do anything we can to be in their good graces – even acting as if we don’t care whether we are, perhaps even sabotaging the good graces just to get ahead of them. Show them how unworthy you are before they have the chance to declare it.
We go to great lengths to maintain some sort of control over the good – grace exchange, most of us cave in to lying – to ourselves or to those to whom we give that power. Just to be found worthy of notice.
Am I worthy of your notice? Are you pleased with me? It matters to me.
Why is it, then, that it is so easy to dismiss another person as not worthy of my trust, or attention even, merely because of his appearance or in which part of town she lives in? When we know how much it matters to us that others are pleased to be in our company, do we withhold?