When I was a first grader, our teacher had us line up in order of our class standing to read, recite and answer questions. A student who could answer a question which the person in front of him/her missed, moved one step higher in line.
Like today’s American economy, it was survival of the fittest. We all knew who was “smart” and who was “dumb.” Smart kids got favored treatment. They got to carry messages or recite at programs.
Sadly, that line and the treatment of those at the end of it sent a strong message about success and approval – a message which is alien to the theme of today’s readings.
The Gospel emphatically tells us that God loves us whether we are successful in the world’s terms or not. Our invitation to His kingdom doesn’t depend on whether we stand at the head of the line, make a ton of money or become king of the universe. In fact the opposite might be true.
Today’s readings should cause us to meditate on what we mean by success and how we evaluate the success of our own lives.
In first grade success meant getting to the head of the line and staying there. Too often as adults, it means a more sophisticated version of “the line.”
• How much money do we earn?
“He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” In other words, Jesus (who had such potential) died a “loser.” Of course this was only in society’s eyes. “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name.”
What great news for all of us who have stumbled or even failed! Unlike my first grade teacher, God isn’t constantly putting us in rank order. Unlike the commentators at the Olympics who proclaimed silver medal recipients “losers,” God isn’t judging our success in life by whether we beat others or whether we get our name on an awards plaque.
There’s nothing wrong with being the fastest runner or the top speaker in a forensics contest. They are simply irrelevant achievements when it comes to succeeding in God’s eyes.
I suspect that when we are looking back on our lives, the “successes” that will mean the most to us more closely mirror those that our readings deem important.
We’ll treasure letters from our kids saying “I’m trying to be just like you Dad” more than a retirement gold watch.
We won’t regret the meetings or competitions we’ve missed nearly as much as the school plays or birthday parties we skipped to “get to the head of the line.”
If we haven’t spent time with friends when they needed us, life at the country club will be little lonely.
God wants us to be successful – as long as we don’t define success merely as jumping over others to stand at the head of the line.
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