(I will be at children's church Sunday; a reflection on Luke 14)
Competition is an American virtue. I was out to eat last week and the folks were cheering as American women won a footrace. We take pride in the athletic performances of Americans at the Olympics simply because we vicariously win through them. We are not alone. Rabid national pride is universal. Everyone wants to stand on the podium and receive the gold. We want to be number one.
Early on we learn the words "Me!" and "Mine!" As infants and toddlers we hone the skills that get our needs met. In families, siblings are often viewed as adversaries who are getting in the way of our wants and desires. In the ancient Middle East honor was highly sought after while shame was to be avoided at all costs. People wrestled for scraps of honor for themselves and their families. Today Jesus makes comment on the human desire to be number one and seated in the place of honor.
Honor can be fleeting. Honor is based on outside circumstances and the responses of other people. I think it fair to see that Michael Phelps is the most amazing Olympic athlete ever. Since the Olympics began in 1896, over seventy nations have failed to win a medal and an additional seventy plus have fewer medals than Phelps. His total haul of medals ranks him in the top third of all nations in the last 120 years. Yet after the last Olympics, we learned that his personal life was a disaster and that he ended up in a treatment center with little interest in life. Gold medals, even two dozen, cannot fill the void in the human soul. The distraction of the pursuit may keep us busy for months, even years. Eventually, though, we feel it. In the quiet, we feel the hole. Phelps indicates that his life has found meaning in his child and working with youth. Jesus would seem to approve of such a plan.
"Humble yourself," says Jesus, "let others honor you. Seeking honor is a dead end street. Serving those who are in need is the best use of your time and resources." Such advice would have been bizarre and scandalous to the pagan society of Rome. Care and interest in the poor and lame was not an honorable pursuit at all. Yet, Jesus, as a faithful Jew, offered an alternative universe. Learn to be at home in your own flesh and blood, living your life with he Kingdom of God in your center. Imitate God: Spend time blessing those who will give no return, the poor and needy who will eat up what you give them unable to pay you back.
The reality is, a Y swim instructor may never stand on a podium and hear the Star Spangled Banner, but s/he may have a sense of self worth and inner peace that no gold medal can buy. In the Kingdom of God there is a different way of evaluating the value of our life. Jesus is the role model. We are invited into His world.
Trust God, not honors/
Trust love, not human praise
Trust and serve others.