|Rivalry or R&R?|
I love to read messages on cars. They say a lot about the owner. For example there was a license plate that says "I B-E-E-L-V." When you see one like that, you immediately think that the person believes in Jesus. But right next to it was a bumper sticker that said: God loves you, but I am his favorite. Now perhaps we should take this as a joke the owner of the car is trying to make (maybe in reality he understand that as we've read in James recently, God doesn't play favorites), or, what if he is serious, thinking that God loves him more than the rest of us?
What I'm getting at here is that linked to this simple statement of faith "I believe," is a statement of favoritism, a subtle, or really not so subtle, introduction of rivalry between people: God loves me more than you, really!
Look at the disciples! Soon after Jesus tells them that he must suffer and be put to death (they hated to hear that) things get quiet and Jesus asks them what they have been arguing about. (Jesus already can guess!). The disciples have been discussing who is the greatest among them (Hey, we've got to be ready to take over when Jesus is no longer with us.)
Favoritism and rivalry is the situation of the whole world and its problems, but also these also infect the whole church.
So Jesus, sits down and gathers his disciples around him (like all teachers at that time did) and takes a small child to the center with him. (Why's he doing that? A child has no status at all! In their experience, usually it was a victim, an accused, who is placed in the center of the circle, with fingers pointed, but instead Jesus puts a child there!) Jesus is trying to neutralize the power of his disciple's envy and jealousy, which, of course, they think is their "Sacred" duty to be able to carry on and so forth. But Jesus teaches them that he's not interested in what the "sacred" hopes of others are, but instead how to live humbly, without rivalry. St. James got it when he writes:
If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above (ie. sacred), but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will be discorder and wickedness of every kind.
So what is the cure for this rivalry which so easily infects the world and the church? It's the child! If you want to be first, make yourself last and serve others like this child!
Who ever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
This is the cure for all our ills. Not easy medicine to take, to be sure: To leave hardness of heart, to accept life gratefully like a child, to let go of all our perogatives, anger, and rivalrous desires. This is the cure Jesus gives the disciples and us. It leads to the rest and relaxation we really are looking for, but most often don't admit or realize.
What does R&R feel like?
The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy . . . a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
This is real R&R- what it feels and looks like. But do we want it? What if we're still feeling conflicted?
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. . . you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
So what can we do? We can ask and then patiently wait for God's will and influence to take over the situation. The evil one tries to keep us unhappy about so many things, both small and great in our lives. The goal is not to succumb to this influence of sadness and desire. Don't play that game. Rather, think and trust like children of Abba who loves us all and knows what we need and what is best for us! Like a child, as James puts it.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
This is great "Good News!" Speaking for myself, I'm not there 100 per cent yet. Maybe you might agree. But I'm glad I'm here to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to receive the Communion God gives me, and leave here forgiven, so I can try to experience the R&R, real rest and relaxation, and bring it to the world around me this week. As a wise old Abbot said to a young monk who didn't know how or what to do as a monk: Just keep yourself at peace and others will find peace just being near you.