Thursday, June 30, 2011
"Like a shoot from the parched earth, there was in him no stately bearing to make us care about him, nor any appearance that would attract us to him..." Isaiah 53:2
Poor Tow Mater, the rusted-over and somewhat annoying tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy in Cars 2. Above all the cool car races, spy intrigue, and exotic international settings in this animated sequel, it is the story of Mater (as he is commonly known) that most touches the heart.
Despite his awkward nature and unsightly appearance, Mater is an unconditionally kind vehicle, almost to a fault. When his friend Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) comes back to the sleepy town of Radiator Springs after a season of racing, Mater rolls out the red carpet and wants to spend every waking moment with his buddy... even when McQueen simply wants some peace and quiet (and the company of his sweetheart Sally, voiced here by Bonnie Hunt).
Without McQueen (the only car to really return Mater's overreaching affections in any way), Mater seems lost and alone. He exemplifies Isaiah's description of the suffering servant:
"Like a shoot from the parched earth, there was in him no stately bearing to make us care about him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by others, a man of suffering accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom others hide their faces. He was spurned and we held him in no esteem." (Isa. 53:2-3)
Poor, poor Mater. His awkward looks, his obsessive personality, and his strange idiosyncrasies are sometimes too much for those around him. Yet McQueen reluctantly takes him on a global racing tour - if only out of gratitude for Mater's kindness and friendship.
But once again, in the lead-up to and in the crucial final moments of a race in Japan, Mater messes up. The relationship between friends has broken - and Mater unknowingly falls into the midst of an international spy caper (where his accidents actually save the day and endear him to his handlers, who think he's putting on quite a show).
Mater makes us think of those people in our own lives who may not completely fit in. This old tow truck reminds us of the ones we often forget about, pass over, or if we do notice them, we regard as annoying, obnoxious, or undesirable.
Do you know someone who fits that description? Do you feel that you are or that you are seen as someone like this? How do you react to people like this and/or how do people react to you?
Herein lies our struggle. It is true that certain individuals drain the energy and that their awkward nature can be time-consuming for others and sometimes embarrassing in public settings - yet we are called to love all God's people unconditionally - and we are called to strive towards excellence, maturity, and leadership.
It's a delicate balance between loving others and ourselves despite our flaws - and moving towards growth and self-improvement.
Mater has some things to work on: his smothering tendencies, his understanding of other cultures, and his lack of focus to name a few. In the same way, we must constantly look within to see how we can be our best self (and in a compassionate yet instructive way, help others to grow). This is where spiritual direction, coaching, and education come into play.
Yet at the same time, Mater is someone to be loved. Like the suffering servant in Isaiah, he still offers himself for others despite rejection. He looks at his dents and rust stains as markers along the way of serving those in need and loving his friends, just as Isaiah proclaims "by his stripes, we were healed." (Isa. 53:5) We, too, must love even those who seem out-of-place...for within them is the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to see this Spirit in those we love and cherish, in our family and friends. But God's face dwells within those we would otherwise reject - and if we should ignore, pass over, or laugh at them, are we not persecuting our Lord yet again?
It is our challenge, then, to handle those who look or act differently with intentionality. We might encourage them or help them to grow, but we should never abandon them. We are called to support and to love the "Tow Maters" in our lives, whoever they might be.
Let us pray that we may all balance how we treat others - and if we ourselves are victim to others, let us pray that God will send us good people to treat us with the love we so deserve.