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What Michael Scott Taught Me About Jesus
- August 15, 2017
- Josh Godwin
One of the saddest moments in television history was the moment that Michael Gary Scott, the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton on the hit series The Office, unhooked his microphone and walked away from the camera for the final time. It was a polarizing moment, with many fans of the show holding everything that happened in the series afterwards (63 episodes to be exact) in contempt because of his absence.
What was it that made him such a beloved character? He’s hapless and clueless at the worst possible moments and never fails to say the wrong thing in the exact worst situation. But Steve Carell, the actor who portrayed him for seven seasons, brought so much genuine compassion and love to the character that you couldn’t help but love him. Michael Scott may be insufferable and often unintentionally offensive, but viewers loved him simply because at his core they know him to be a genuinely caring person.
But how in the world could Michael Scott ever give me any revelation about Jesus? Michael never says the right thing when needed; Jesus had the exact words the woman at the well needed in John 4. Michael is a well-intended buffoon who’s ability to read a person’s emotions would be comparable to a starving lion gauging the emotions of a gazelle; Jesus repeatedly speaks words of reassurance at the exact moment people need them. Michael Scott is the embodiment of a perpetual cringe; Jesus was the living incarnation of grace. The two seem polar opposite.
But the basic core of Michael’s personality does come from a common thread with Jesus. Michael’s compassion and priority is first and foremost about the people around him. Throughout his time on the series Michael demonstrates, quite hilariously, that his business role is less important to him than his place in the hearts of his employees. In a later episode of the series, the central company of the show’s story is facing terminal bankruptcy. As rumors circulate around the office and everyone begins preparing themselves to make a strenuous final push for revenue, Michael begins an elaborate game and insists everyone play. When confronted about it he lashes out with raw emotion, advocating that the employees need this for their wellbeing. Michael Scott couldn’t care less about how well his management performs fiscally. Rather his concern is always for the wellbeing of those around him. His goal is not performing well, but fostering a culture of compassion and love rather than ceaseless labor.
Does this sound like any particular story about Jesus? It sounds almost like the guy who often had to stand in opposition to the leaders of his own religious group because their pursuit of order had bypassed the people. It sounds a lot like the guy who encouraged Martha to set aside her work and be filled spiritually rather than exhausting herself physically.
The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is always a challenge when we are confronted by it, because our work is so definitive to who we are. We often are quick to accuse Martha of her faults without admitting that what we read about her is too familiar. Jesus reminds us in this story that while our work is valuable and should hold part of our attention, our largest priority should always be to fulfill the needs of our spiritual lives. Our busy lives offer every excuse imaginable to focus solely on our jobs and the labor we wake up to each day. And if we listen to those excuses, it’s not hard to find our entire meaning in the minutia of the tasks laid before us. But in this story Jesus encourages us to look beyond our tasks to our spiritual wellbeing.
I can’t help but feel that Jesus gets Michael Scott’s leadership style, at least in theory. A running theme of The Office is how inept Michael is at the fiscal operation of a business while also being exceptional at truly caring for those around him. While I can’t speak to Jesus’s business acumen, I do know he encourages us and calls us in to a place of spiritual fulfillment instead of a place of unending toil. Michael Scott may be a clueless and well-intentioned buffoon, but he is a reminder of how Jesus often desires love and compassion from us instead of our overworked hands and weary hearts.