1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
It seems like it is part of our human nature to be in competition with each other; as parents, we have seen this struggle to be ‘the best’ or ‘the greatest’ played out among our children. It can be on the playground or in organized sports, in school, or even in church, really anywhere that our children are judged, there is competition to win the prize, to excel and be the best!
Even as adults we find ourselves in competition for jobs, money, status and even for romance.
As single parents we may often feel in competition with the “other” parent as well, as we can often come off as the one who makes (and enforces) all the rules while it can seem like the parent our children see on the weekends, is bit more “fun” and not as tough or as strict as we are. Sometimes our children also pick up on this competition between their parents (or other family members), and will try to play one parent against the other, in order for them to get what they want.
This completion for who is the greatest is a pretty normal thing, and not necessarily bad, as it has inspired people to meet, and triumph over, many of life’s challenges; but the struggle to be the best, which can sometimes be accompanied by the derision of those who are not doing as well…can also take some of the enjoyment out of life.
When I was a kid, I was horrible at sports (and I still am). I liked playing baseball, kickball and football, but it stopped being fun for me because I was so bad at these sports, and was teased because of it. I felt like I was pretty much useless next to the real “jocks” who played these sports so much better than I did, and never missed a chance to let me know that I was awful, and how my poor performance was hurting their efforts. So after a while, I just stopped playing, and grew to dislike playing sports in general.
Years later, when my daughter played on a soccer team, the coaches started off not worrying about the scores or the performance of the players…the emphasis was for the kids to just have fun, and to learn how to play. Of course many parents got into cheering for their kids, and did keep score, and on occasion they would put down some players who were not as good as the others…but for the most part, the kids just loved playing the game.
While some parents saw this practice of not keeping score as taking the whole point out of the sport, when I saw this I was glad, as it reminded how much fun sports could be without all the pressure and the teasing. To just play the game for the love of the sport, and not to care about who is best; I think this is something only really little kids can accomplish successfully, as the really little children have no guile, and do not quite understand the whole competition thing, and seem to take each other on their own common ground.
I believe that this is what Jesus is referring to in today’s gospel: that in order to truly love and serve God, we need to come as children…to put aside our desire to be number one, and our feelings of loss at not achieving that goal, to look beyond our differences and petty bickering, and to come as equals…as fellow children of God.
In today’s gospel Christ calls upon us to stay ‘right-sized’ (not to build ourselves up too much, or bring ourselves down too low) and come to him in humility and in faith, and in love; and to simply accept the gift of God’s love and enjoy it…so that we can share it with the world.
And this is a lesson that we can teach our children: that the competition to be greatest is not always necessary or helpful; instead we can show them the value of humility, of working together, even with those we disagree with…or feel ourselves in competition with (even with our ‘ex’); for it is only by working together that true reconciliation can occur, and it is through this reconciliation, with God and with each other, that the Kingdom of God comes closer to being a reality in our midst.
Let us Pray
God, thank you for being in our midst…and for seeing us all as your children, and accepting us as we are. Help us to stay ‘right-sized’ and to remember that in your eyes, no one is any better or any worse than anyone else; help us to teach our children the value to working together, and of being one in your love, and your Kingdom.