Psalm 145:10-11, 12-13, 13-14
When I was in first grade, my well-meaning teacher had us stand in line to recite, in order of class standing. Anyone walking into our classroom knew instantly who was first and who was last – who was smart and who wasn’t. The ultimate mortification was for a smart kid to have to go to the end of the line for missing a day of school, then slowly and painfully work your way to the head again by passing classmates who missed questions. I mean, what if someone walked in and saw you standing by Pat O’Flarerty?
Even at age six, I sensed how hurtful this must have made school for the kids clustered long term at the end of the line. They must have felt like I did on the playground when captains argued about who had to take me.
Sadly, adult life has a lot in common with my grade school. Today’s readings should make us question how we view life’s winners and losers and how best to use our own gifts.
“For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last,” Jesus warns us in the Gospel. “Masters . . . stop bullying, knowing that both they and you have a Master in heaven and that with Him there is no partiality,” says St. Paul in the first reading.
Who are our heroes and why? Do we admire a multi-millionaire pro athlete who abuses women more than a Special Olympian who finishes a race with courage, dignity and joy? Were we figuratively born on third base and think we hit a triple, as former Texas Governor Ann Richards once jibed (perhaps unfairly) about the first President Bush.
We academics don’t get rich but we can easily fall into the trap of thinking we’re responsible for being both smart and able to stay in school for years. We forget how many folks had to flip burgers, pick corn or work in a factory to enable many of us to call ourselves “doctor.” I’ve even known some professors who look down on colleagues with degrees from less prestigious institutions than their own. How dare they have had to work their way through school or be unable to afford the Ivy League?
We need to remember the source of our gifts and be filled with humble
gratitude for them. Above all, we need to use them to help those
clustered at the end of the line. Otherwise, we may find ourselves
like me on that horrible grade school playground – chosen last when it
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook