Humans compare ourselves to each other by nature. I love the old sit-com MASH. In one episode, the wise Col. Potter counsels the brilliant, brash young surgeon Hawkeye who is bent out of shape. Why? Because another, “very average” doctor from his hometown is getting awards and lucrative research grants while Hawkeye slaves away in obscurity, patching up wounded soldiers in the Korean War. (In fact, Hawkeye is quite literally “bent out of shape” – his back has gone out – a stress reaction.)
Col. Potter sits down with Hawkeye and says, “Son, the only person you need to compete with, the only one you need to get better than, is yourself…and that would be a hard enough standard for anybody to meet.”
The disciples in today’s gospel are caught by Jesus arguing over which among them is the greatest. They are sheepish, because they know they shouldn’t be competing!
Why do we continually compare ourselves to others? I don’t know, but I do it all the time. I compare our parish with others around us; I compare my yard with my neighbors’ (mine doesn’t compare very favorably); I compare my “success” in life with other people’s, even though I know I should just be thankful for the blessings God has given me.
Jesus turns all of this comparison upside down. He preaches humility…a willingness to sacrifice for others. We are not meant to try to be the greatest; we are meant to become servants. It’s a hard teaching for us competitive humans, but this is in fact the way to true joy and peace in life.
The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Let’s try a little exercise: each time you receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, resolve to focus more on thanksgiving and less on competition. Let’s focus on how we can serve God’s creation, rather than how we can win over others. Let the bread and wine be food for thanksgiving, and drink for self-giving. JBM