It “sucks”, really “sucks” coming last.
Or thinking that you are last, hopeless, despite your best efforts.
All that we have laboured at, struggled with, prepared ourselves for, yields little by way of a return
“Sucks”. In not getting anywhere near to a goal, we, (or others) need to see achieved.
“Sucks”. When our dreams, hopes and determination, seems to be “fruitless”.
“Sucks” ruminating over everybody else who seem to be living the “perfect” life.
Well, according to their Facebook profile anyway.
I still remember coming dead last in a Boys’ Brigade cross country competition. As I rounded the last corner to crawl my way to the finish line beneath the rugby posts, I can still see the organiser’s removing the running tape and finish line and to this day I can still hear the bellow of my BB Officer “Hurry up Brown, we all want to get home!”
Humiliated. Last. I did feel a bit sorry for myself and have never worn running shoes since.
Truth be told, I can just about run a bath let alone a cross country race.
But, in this week’s Gospel story from Mark Chapter 10 v 35 to 45, Christ (you might say) reminds each one of us of the importance of being last…(and not in a Boys’ Brigade cross country type of way).
Here’s the passage.
The Gospel reading.
The Highest Places of Honor
35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”
36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”
37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”
38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”
39-40 “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”
Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. There are other arrangements for that.”
41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”
Christ’s teaching, amidst a world that prizes success, achievement and these days immediately telling others about it on social media (“Guilty as charged my Lord”) is, troubling to say the least.
The first in life shall be last. The last in life, shall be first (or words to that effect).
I hear myself wanting to argue back with Christ, along the lines of…
“Wise up Jesus. You have no idea how the world really works”.
“If I don’t succeed, how the heck will I pay the bills?”
and sentiments to such effect.
I guess James and John’s request to sit to the left and right of Christ in the Kingdom of God, had its seed in the idea that they deserved this reward, the reward for being first, working hard, maybe even in being “good” disciples.
The first disciples of Christ, as fully human and embodied as those of us to this day claiming His name.
Who doesn’t like a run of “success”, professionally, personally or however we determine accomplishment.
And of course this is part and parcel of what it is to be fully human, to flourish.
Christ’s teachings are counter cultural.
Christ promotes a view of the Kingdom of God that contrasts starkly to the way (all?) of us are so often conditioned to view success, meaning and purpose.
His teaching and rebuke to James and John and the rest of His followers is troubling.
It is not James and John who will get to throw their “weight around” (Mark 10 v 41) and determine their status in the world to come, rather those who are last.
Who will sit to the left and right of God, is the gift, only, of the Father.
Essentially…those who in life are last, are very often really first. Somehow.
Maybe you, like I, have encountered folk who on first glance anyway, seem to be doing well for themselves…and there is much to commend and be thankful for in terms of a person’s well being and flourishing. Often, though, the appearance of “flourishing”, and the need to be or appear to be first (across whatever measure chosen) can, sadly, be only that…an appearance of flourishing, doing well, being successful at life. “Living your best life” as the saying goes may not be all its supposed to be.
This harvest season, amidst for many the reward of their hard work,
This harvest season, amidst the “lastness” of life’s hurt, trauma and brokenness.
This harvest season, in season of plenty and season of little…
May we all know that our worth is not in being first and in not always winning a Boys’ Brigade cross country race…
But in the meaning and comfort of a love that takes us as we are,
And challanges us to offer that harvest,
In the building of God’s coming Kingdom, today and forever.
Picture courtesy of @savbrown