They called themselves The Group.
In today’s parlance, they were a clique of “mean girls,” who coordinated their wardrobes, hairstyles and social activities with military precision. They also turned on one another with alarming regularity.
At the center of this organization was the ringleader, a five-star general type from whom all orders came. No one was exactly sure how she became the Queen Bee, but somewhere along the line she got the memo that she was more important than everyone else and no one ever mounted a coup to usurp her power. At her right hand was her steadfast advisor – and the only person whose opinion the Queen actually valued. She was the one person who seemed to escape the Queen’s scorn and who was genuinely liked by peer groups other than her own. Most suspect she could overthrow the existing power structure if she really wanted to, but for whatever reason she doesn’t. This made her both interesting and a bit puzzling all at the same time.
Beyond that were about eight other self-appointed popular people who claimed to be best friends and who jockeyed for position based on the special gifts they brought to the table. The Queen would use and lose these girls at will and yet they were so dependent on her benevolence, they would endure the abuse and consistently come back for more.
At one time I was close to the Queen. I belonged to her world. It began when she invited herself over to my house one afternoon, counted my Barbies and after determining my collection to be adequate; declared we could be friends. We hung out for about three years until another pal informed me I was being played and I opted to back off. My decision made me the target of harassment by the Queen and her worker bees and also the first person Group members typically turned to when they were on the outs.
After all, they hated me first.
I recall one incident, during the sixth grade in which the members of this clique decided to kick someone out of their club. It was during rehearsals for an all-school Mass that they wrote their intention down and passed the missive along the pew affixing their signatures to it as if it were the Declaration of Independence. When the object of their pronouncement got the news, she sat at my lunch table sobbing over the turn of events, contemplating what she could have done to fall out of favor and vowing never to speak to any of them again.
“You’re my best friend now,” she assured me.
Her words were a piecrust promise – easily made and easily broken. A few days later all was forgiven, she was be back in the fold and the following week, someone else would take her place. As they rotated members throughout the school year, the girls never caught on to the cycle of persecution, didn’t know how to break it and naively believed that they could avoid the Queen’s wrath.
Jesus talks about the cycle of persecution in today’s Gospel, but instead of allowing ourselves to get run over by it, He calls us to be aware of it and to understand what we are getting into by being His followers. He’s the friend who points out the obvious. By bucking the world or “the group” to be the children of God, we are not victims. We are rebels. It may not be popular, but it is powerful. We may sit by ourselves at the lunch table; suffer slings and arrows for our decision and attract fair-weather friends when they experience times of trial but we are not alone. The world hated Him first. We don’t belong to the world. We belong to Him.
And that’s a “Group” worth being part of.
Today’s readings for Mass: ACTS 6: 1-10; PS 100 B-2,3,5; JN 15: 8-21