“Friendly Competition?”by Karen Theckston, Fiat Ventures

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

A couple years back, I went hiking at Bushkill Falls, PA with a group of friends. It’s a beautiful park with waterfalls, walking trails and so much to explore. My good friend and I were there with our boyfriends (now husbands), and although I remember having a good time that day, what I remember most is how competitive our boyfriends and some of the other guys were. Someone would climb a rock, and another would find a bigger rock. Someone would race up the stairs to see a waterfall, the others would want to do it faster.

This went on all day and my friend and I were confused because the guys were being competitive – maybe even a bit reckless – just for the sake of being competitive. There was no prize to be won, and nothing to gain besides bragging rights.

Of course, we all want to be the best sometimes, to be recognized or praised by others as being the fastest, strongest, smartest etc., even if it’s by a group of friends. The Apostle’s attitude in this week’s Gospel reminded me of that trip to Bushkill. John and James were being competitive and acting and speaking almost without thinking first.

They let their competitive spirit and desire for power and recognition get the best of them when they pulled Jesus aside to asked him to be seated on His right and left when He established His kingdom. They didn’t understand that Jesus was about to demonstrate true greatness through his Passion and Death – laying down His life for His friends; and this was the kind of greatness they would be called to follow.

Jesus reminds the Apostles (and us), that greatness doesn’t always look like what we expect. It’s not being the most powerful or having the most wealth and possessions, especially not at the expense of others. Greatness comes from following God’s will; that is what leads us to enter the Kingdom.

Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be our best selves or work hard at achieving our goals.  God wants us to live happy and full lives, and He wants to recognize our talents and gifts. But as Christians and His disciples, He calls us to use those gifts to serve and not for gaining power and control. Some friendly competition can help bring out the best in everyone, but our goals should be clear and fixed on God because it is in Him that we will find greatness.

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