First Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17 – 20
Second Reading: James 3:16 – 4:3
Gospel: Mark 9: 30 -37
Our life is full of games, private, public, entertaining, time-passing, serious, light, and so on. Many people say that our life itself is a game designed and planned both by God and us. One of the most necessary but many times destructive, is the game we play for coveting power and holding on to it. It is called the powerplay or powergame. It all starts from our very birth as humans. It is part of human nature. We have an innate tendency to be recognized, to be accepted, to be competing, to be better than the other, to be number one among many. In this process whatever we speak, act and react is called the powergrame.
Imagine witnessing the biggest popular movement in Palestine for centuries and becoming part of it. Crowds are pressing upon you for access to Jesus. Inside the movement, however, there is quiet discord. Who will Jesus award his key positions to? Who will he appoint to sit nearest to him? You become aware of everything you gave up to follow him. Surely you are worthy of recognition? The various talents and abilities of the others make you feel insecure. Colleagues and peers become a threat to your position. Unconsciously you are arguing about who is the greatest, without realizing how sad that is.
Our culture defines our success by our ranking. Everything measureable becomes a league table. Imagine devoting a lifetime to measuring your worth by comparing yourself to others. What a disaster that would be for our confidence and maturity. W were able to find joy in most things before we began to compare ourselves to the others.
Jesus is aware of the way in which our insecurity feeds our need to make comparisons: “This is not to happen among you,” he insists. In John’s Gospel we find Jesus washing the dirt off his followers’ feet in order to drive home the point. He will insist that his followers have the courage to let their feet be washed mean that we abandon our need to win. The alternative is a lifetime comparing, losing confidence and being resentful in the one hand or relegating others as lesser than ourselves on the other.
Competition works well in sport, but as a way of living it is ultimately empty. It is important to strive, to persist, to endeavour, to try and keep trying. But once our life becomes a comparison we will fall into envy or insecurity. We will start to argue. To outlive our friends was never an achievement. It was a gift. Along with everything else. To see it any other way is the beginning of our downfall.
The disciples were caught red-handed, and they knew it. Jesus had asked them what they were arguing about, and they had no choice but to tell him: they were caught up in a heated debate about which of them was the greatest disciple. In reply, Jesus told them to focus on being servants, not on becoming great. This probably wasn’t the first time
Longing for power, position better status in life and covet popularity in the midst of people, is an integral part of one’s lifegame. But today in the Gospel Jesus is quoted opposing this kind of search for being number one. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of al and the servant of al.” Many people over the centuries questioned his saying’s validity. Does Jesus condemn with these words the desire to excel, to do great things in life, to give the best of oneself, and favors instead laziness, a defeatist spirit and negligent? This is mere misunderstanding by us about Jesus and his teaching. Jesus, being the Wisdom from Heaven, more than anyone of us, was fully aware of the need of powerplay in human life. Surely he knew fighting for excellence, struggling for better life and working hard to achieve a more enriching life is a must for any human being, both for life’s safety and survival. However, as many element of human nature, Jesus was aware of the fact that wonderful powerplay can be easily misused as we observe over the centuries in every part of the world, nations, communities, neighborhoods, even one’s own family have been torn to pieces, and thus bringing into life chaos, fights, wars, tensions, unjust systems.
How this powerplay gets ugly and dangerous, as St. James writes in our Second reading today, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and foul practice.’ He also writes: “Where do the wars and conflicts among you, come from? Is it not from your passion that makes war within your members? The passion for predominance is the root of all misuses of powergame: Predominance of one nation over another, of one over another, of a party over the others, of one religion over another.
He had said something like this to them, and it surely wouldn’t be the last!
But then instead of going deeper into his teaching about serving he pivoted to the theme of receiving a child in his name. So why did Jesus change the subject?
He didn’t . He just had a different definition of service than the disciples did and probably a different definition that we do. Like the disciples, we might think of service in terms of quantity and impact. But that’s not how Jesus sees it. If you lead a Bible study with fifty people and your neighbor leads on with five people, that doesn’t necessarily make you a better servant. If you are spending all your free time helping out in numerous parish ministries and your neighbor is able to give up only one extra hour a week, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re more of a servant.
What makes you a servant? You willingness to welcome Jesus no matter how he comes to you. If you’re willing to “waste” you time with a child or any other vulnerable person, you’re a servant. If you’re willing to imitate Jesus’ humility as he washed his disciples’ feet, you’re a
servant. If you’re willing to imitate his compassion as he stood up for a woman caught in adultery, you’re a servant.
It is very interesting that Jesus used the child as a an example, on how to handle this powerplay of adults. He knew you and I by all means would be playing this game of power. Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Children love to play. That is their survival technique, either for winning in life’s race or for good digestion both physically and emotionally. They learn by doing and not much by hearing or seeing. And Jesus wants us to continue this game tendency for the betterment of life but always like little children with simplicity, innocence and total dependence to our supreme Being as our Great Parent in heaven.
These days we see so much in fights, jealousy, animosity so much tensions in families, and communities where e are part of. All are in the name of powerplay. As Jesus points out to us, it is because of the desire for predominance: Predominance of one nations over another, of one race over the other. Let this Eucharistic Banquet that brings us in communion with the Lord and our neighbours help us with the grace of liberating our hearts and minds from misuse and abuse of the most intriguing powerplays.
Jesus promised that those who become “the last of all and the servant of all” are the “first” Mark 9:35. May we all learn how to live in the humility and lowliness of Christ.
Is it good thing to compare ourselves to others?
Does the achievement of others cause you delight or envy?
God bless. Have a wonderful Sunday.