If we look at the last three weeks of Gospel readings we see an unfolding pattern that is all to familiar to us. Two weeks ago, there was the fun part, the miracle. Last week, we heard of Peter’s pop quiz, in which he passed the multiple choice, but failed the short answer. This week is the moment when the results from the ACT, SAT or some other standardized test come in, we all begin comparing our scores with others. We want to see who is the greatest. Just like the Apostles in today’s gospel, arguing about who is the greatest.
As American’s being competitive is somehow built into our culture, our ethos, our psyche. We’re competitive when it comes to academics. Not just the tests, but we speak to our seniors who are applying to colleges right now about getting into a, “competitive” college. We are competitive in the workplace, always seeking to out perform our peers so that we can rise up the proverbial ladder of success. And of course we are competitive when it comes to our sports. “You play to win the game!” We, as Americans, love competition.
There is one place however, where competition doesn’t belong. Right here. In Church. Today Jesus rebukes the Apostles for arguing amongst each other as to who was the greatest. Our faith isn’t meant to be a competitive faith. It’s not about how many Rosaries you say a day, how often you go to confession, how many theology books you’ve read, or how many verses of the Bible you’ve memorized. Nor is it about how many service hours you’ve logged or what committees you serve on in the parish. We should want to do all those things because we are called to holiness. All of us. But we shouldn’t do those things so we can compare ourselves with the person sitting next to us in the pew so that we can say we are better than them. We do all of those things because they draw us into a deeper relationship with Christ, with God. We need a relationship with God, not a competitive faith.
The problem is that we are so indoctrinated in such a competitive culture, when we see it missing, we freak out. Think about last year when Carson Wentz, the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles got hurt. When his backup, Nick Foles did well, everyone was astonished when they were supportive of each other. People were flabbergasted, analysts freaking out on television because they should hate each other, they should be in competition with one another. What did they do? They went on win the Super Bowl. They even beat Tom Brady!
But for us in the Church, we shouldn’t be so surprised at the lack of competition amongst us. Rather, we should be seeking to avoid a competitive faith, which risks ripping, our team, our community, the Church apart.
Thankfully Jesus gives us a clue in the Gospel today. His response to the Apostles who were competitively quarreling about who was the greatest, was to point to the child and say, “he who receives this child…” The verb there is to receive. We need a receiving faith instead of a competitive faith.
What does this mean? It means that instead of being in competition with others for how great our faith is compared with others, we should be seeking to receive, to welcome others into our community. That if we believe our faith is that great, we should want to share it with others, not keep it to ourselves so we can show off and proclaim ourselves the greatest.
If we are gathered here at this altar because we recognize the great things God has done in our lives, the power of his grace, his immense mercy and love for us, shouldn’t we want to share that with others instead of using it to create another competition?
This past week I met up with a friend from college who is now a Dominican brother. He and I both lived very full and eclectic lives, each with friends from a variety of backgrounds. I remember one time we were on a mission trip and we were praying and he said to me, “I just want my friends to experience the same feeling of God’s great love for me. It’s not about forcing my faith on them, it’s about wanting them to have the same feeling of being loved by God, knowing his mercy, joy and peace.” That is a receiving faith. That’s the kind of faith we ought to seek after.
We might still be competitive in the classroom, in the office, or on the ball field. But here in this place, in this community, we should not follow the example of the Apostles in the Gospel, but rather the words of Jesus. We should develop not a competitive faith, but rather a receiving faith.