Have you ever heard of a mantis shrimp? When I hear the word shrimp I think of the puny things I fry up and eat with my alfredo pasta. But a mantis shrimp is INSANE. It is no bottom feeder. It is a carnivorous marine crustacean up to 4 inches long. They are true predators. Mantis shrimp are divided into two groups based on their hunting style. Based on the shape of their forelimbs, they are either smashers or spearers.
“Smashers” use these forelimbs as clubs.. The club can reach speeds of nearly 50 mph in a fraction of a second. This creates a force of over 1,500 newtons or the same as a 340-pound object falling directly onto the prey! By comparison, “Spearers” have sharp barbs on their limbs that they use to impale small fish and other prey. Spearers can also strike with amazing speed and precision. Unlike Smashers, Spearers tend to live in soft places such as sand. They wait for something to swim by, which they then impale at lightning speed.
Mantis shrimp are also known for their unique coloration. Some species, often those that hide in the sand, are dark drab colors which helps them camouflage into the seafloor.
Others, like the peacock mantis shrimp, use bright warning coloration to scare off any potential predators.
Among the peacock mantis shrimp, their bright coloration can have multiple purposes. As mentioned above, it can scare away potential predators, warning that they are dangerous. As many other animals use bright colors, it can also be to attract mates. Some species use their coloration to communicate with other shrimp. Some even have biofluorescence. These different kinds of mantis shrimp have so much in common, but over the years they have evolved very different colors for their very different approaches toward living and eating. Each has a purpose.
This past week we celebrated Epiphany, the time when the wise men came to the baby Jesus. These wise men weren’t what we would think of wise men today. They weren’t bookworm scholar types, but they were held in high esteem for their study of astrology and interpreting the stars. They were most likely diplomats from Persia or thereabouts.
When they came to Jesus they brought expensive gifts and they came wearing fine clothing.
In contrast we hear of the shepherds coming to pay homage to Jesus too, but they have no gifts to bring. They simply presented themselves. Shepherds were not known to be wealthy. In fact during that time they were seen to be untrustworthy and likely thieves. They often wore more plain clothes, possibly worn and tattered.
As we celebrate the Epiphany, I can’t help but think of this contrast. Both of them were drawn to Jesus, knowing He was someone important, but they presented themselves so differently. Nowhere does it say in the Bible that the wise men had more favor with God because they wore nicer clothes. They both recognized Jesus’ greatness and were both drawn there to praise Him.
I’ll admit, I think about this comparison a lot more than just at Epiphany and at Christmas time. Why?
Because I am a prideful person.
Wait… what? What does that have to do with wise men and shepherds? Give me a second, I’ll get there.
In the last few years, I’ve decided to put more effort into what I wear to Mass. I came to more fully appreciate that I was truly entering into the presence of God. I’m sure some religion teacher at some point asked you what you would do if Jesus were to show up on Earth and you got to go meet Him. We say we’d bow down. We say we’d cry. We say all of these things, but one common answer is that we would put on our nicest outfit for Him. The thing is, we do get to meet Him, every time we attend Mass. He is right there, in the flesh. That is why I choose to wear nice outfits any time I am going to Mass. This isn’t just like going to the grocery store. We wear different outfits for different reasons, just like how the different shrimp have different appearances based on their purpose. We change our appearance depending on the setting. I would encourage all of you to think about this and hopefully you’ll join me in dressing up each and every week.
My regular day outfits are pretty casual, usually athletic shorts or sweats. So when I say I dress up, in my mind this means no shorts or sweats, no flip flops, no jeans, nothing too casual. (Here’s where the pride comes in) Because I have made this choice for myself and because I do so out of the greatest respect that I feel for Christ, all too often I get judgmental and sometimes even MAD at others who do not do the same. I think, “How dare they come to church in THAT outfit!” I stare at them and focus so much on what they’re wearing that I forget to focus on why I’m there in the first place, for JESUS! If I truly loved God (as much as I was proud of how I was wearing a good enough outfit) then I wouldn’t be judging what others are wearing, I would be celebrating that they are there!
This is where I think of the wise men and the shepherds. The wise men didn’t show up and start judging the shepherds for what they were wearing. They didn’t tell them that they shouldn’t be there if they weren’t going to wear the appropriate clothing. They were focused on the king that they came for. They were focused on praising the glories of the God-child directly in front of them. Maybe one day those who dress more casually will come to a greater love of God and dress more formally. Maybe their outfit is what they see as dressed up. Maybe their outfit is all they own. That is not for me to know. That is not for me to judge. I am only called to love them. I am to celebrate that they made the choice to come before the Lord that day because many do not make that choice. As I said above, this is often VERY difficult for me, but I truly think it is an important lesson. I hope that you will join me in dressing up for Mass, and I hope that you will join me in praying a prayer of thanks for all that come to Mass, no matter what they are wearing.