October 1, 2017
What do you think of when you hear the word MAYA? Maybe a girl or a woman you know. When have several Mayas in our congregation. The name comes from Indian culture and is the name of a goddess.
Perhaps you think of the Maya civilization, which flourished in Central America for 650 years. When I was on sabbatical in Honduras, I studied near the beautiful Mayan ruins of Copan.
MAYA can mean a lot of things. But today, I want to talk about it as an acronym, an abbreviation formed from the first letters of a series of words. When I say MAYA, I am referring to something that is “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.”
Remember that: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. MAYA.
As far as I know, the word was first applied to the work of Raymond Loewy, an industrial designer. He was responsible for designing the Exxon logo, the Greyhound bus, the Cola-Cola bottle, and the blue nose of the President’s plane, Air Force One.
According to Atlantic magazine (January/February 2017), Loewy complained about the plane that was being used by President John F. Kennedy. He thought it looked “gaudy.” So he spent several hours on the floor of the Oval Office, cutting up shapes of blue paper along with the president. Finally, he settled on a design for the nose of the plane — a design that has been in place ever since. Every time you see that nose, you know you are looking at Air Force One.
So, what was Loewy’s secret? He sensed that we are all torn between two opposing forces: A curiosity about things that are new and a fear of things that are too new. As a result, we are attracted to products that are bold but are also instantly comprehensible. Loewy believed that we want things to be “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable,” a phrase which can be shortened to MAYA.
Think about the ways in which you experience MAYA. When Sanghwa Lee left us on September 10th, she offered a postlude in which she played the piano along with a digital recording of her work on the organ. It thrilled us because it was an advanced musical performance, yet it was familiar enough to be acceptable.
If you bought an iPhone back in the year 2007, you were purchasing a device that launched a whole new era of smartphones. And yet, it was acceptable because it shared the shape and design of the iPod music players that had been introduced in 2001.
When you purchase a new car, you look for one that has the most advanced features. But at the same time, you don’t want an unusual shape. I bought my PT Cruiser back in 2005, and I liked its unique design. But most people didn’t care for it, and the car soon went out of production.
People want MAYA: Things that are Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.
I believe we are drawn to Jesus because he is MAYA. In the temple in Jerusalem, he asks the chief priests and the elders, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (Matthew 21:25). These religious leaders cannot answer, because either choice will get them in trouble. The people love John because his baptism is new and thrilling. If the priests and elders say, “John’s baptism comes from heaven,” then Jesus will ask why they did not believe him (v. 25). In the eyes of Jesus and the people, John’s baptism is Most Advanced.
And yet, if the priests and elders say, “John’s baptism is of human origin,” the crowd will criticize them, because people regard John as a prophet (v. 26). People are comfortable with John because he comes out of a long line of Hebrew prophets, and his baptism is rooted in religious tradition. John is Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. Because of this, the priests and elders are unable to come to a conclusion (v. 27).
Jesus engages in this debate because the religious leaders are questioning his authority. They want to trip him, trap him, and ultimately destroy him. But Jesus slips out their clutches, at least for now, because he is MAYA, Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. His teachings are both fresh and traditional. This is one of the reasons that I love Jesus, and I bet the same it true for you. He is fresh and traditional, most advanced yet acceptable.
After this debate about authority, Jesus tells a parable that illustrates his ability to be simultaneously surprising and familiar (vv. 28-32). A man has two sons, and he asks both of them to go and work in his vineyard. The first says, “No, I don’t think so,” but later he changes his mind and gets to work. The second says, “Sure, I’ll go,” but he fails to lift a finger.
“Which of the two,” asks Jesus, “did the will of his father?” That’s a no-brainer: The first, the one who changed his mind and went to work. “Truly I tell you,” says Jesus, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” That kind of thinking is most advanced. The idea of prostitutes going to heaven first — that’s fresh, bold, and surprising!
But Jesus isn’t finished. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him,” he explains, “but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” Speaking about the way of righteousness is entirely traditional and acceptable. People are comfortable with righteousness, so Jesus is delivering a message that religious leaders should endorse.
Fresh and traditional is what Jesus is all about. Many people are drawn to his message, including tax collectors and prostitutes. They know a good MAYA design when they see it, and they are buying it. Because they are following John and Jesus in the way of righteousness, they are able to enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of the chief priests and scribes.
MAYA Jesus. He preaches a message that is Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.
So where do we see the fresh approaches of Jesus today, and how can we respond to them? The Gospel of Matthew gives hints about designs that Jesus has for change, righteousness and love.
First, the way of change. In his teachings, Jesus offers a fresh but traditional approach to transformation. In his parable of the two sons, he honors the son who changes his mind and goes into the vineyard to work for his father (v. 29). More important than his initial response is his willingness to turn himself around and go in the right direction. This is why the tax collectors and prostitutes who repent are miles ahead of the chief priests and scribes.
John the Baptist challenges people to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2). Jesus follows up with his own invitation to repent (4:17). In both cases, repenting means a complete change of mind, an about-face, a 180-degree turn.
The Most Advanced Yet Acceptable message of Jesus is that change is always possible. Our futures are not determined by our choices from the past. If we have a history of excluding people from our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and churches because of their race or nationality, we can change our minds and our behaviors. Like the first son in the parable, we are free to turn around and serve our father. Jesus has designed us for change.
Next, the way of righteousness. In his MAYA message, Jesus criticizes the priests and the scribes by saying, “John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him” (21:32). By righteousness, Jesus means right relationship with God, and also right relationship with fellow people. It is not based on religious obligations, but on justice and mercy and faith. “Woe to you,” Jesus says to the priests and scribes, “for you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (23:23).
MAYA righteousness means right relationship. It is grounded in faith in God, and in the showing of justice and mercy to our brothers and sisters. The Book of Deuteronomy says that “you shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers” (24:14), nor shall you “deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice” (24:17). The Letter of James says that it is not enough to say to a cold or hungry neighbor, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill.” No, right relationship means that we do what we can to meet their needs. Anything else is not true righteousness. “Faith by itself,” concludes James, “if it has no works, is dead” (2:14-17). MAYA Jesus would agree.
Finally, the way of love. In his design for love, Jesus demonstrates again that he is both fresh and traditional. In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by one of the Pharisees to identify the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus answers, “’You shall love the Lord your God [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (vv. 34-40).
Although this sounds like a new discovery, it is really quite familiar. “Love the Lord your God” comes from Deuteronomy (6:5) and “love your neighbor as yourself” is a quotation of Leviticus (19:18). The Jesus love-design is attractive because it is both bold and traditional.
The love commandment is like the four chords that lie at the heart of many classic pop songs. Have you ever seen the video called “4 Chords”? In it, the group called Axis of Awesome cycles through dozens of songs built on the same chord progressions, including “Let It Be,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”
Although these songs are built on the same four chords, they sound nothing alike. Each one is fresh and bold, in its own way. But we are attracted to them because they are built on familiar chords. The same is true for the love commandment of Jesus, which is both new and old at the very same time. This is the commandment that should provide a two-chord progression for everything we do, at home, at work, in church, and in our community. It is the two-chord progression that should be in our ears as we come to the table, with Christians from different cultures and nationalities, on this World Communion Sunday. Two chords: Love the Lord. Love your neighbor as yourself.
When it comes to religious guidance, Jesus is a great designer. His teachings on change, righteousness and love are MAYA, Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. They challenge us but they also comfort us, as we try to be his people in the world. Amen.
Dam, Rikke Friis. “The MAYA Principle: Design for the Future, but Balance it with Your Users’ Present.” Interactive Design Foundation, September 8, 2015, www.interaction-design.org.
Thompson, Derek. “The Four-Letter Code to Selling Just About Anything.” The Atlantic, January/February 2017, www.theatlantic.com.