10th Sunday after Pentecost 5.8.12 Competition
If you are in the Olympics is it better to run the fastest you ever ran in your life and finish fifth; or is it better to run a slower time than you normally do and finish first?
There is much focus on winning these days, but the real focus should be on how well we perform. It may be that another competitor is better than I am, but if I perform well I should be pleased with that, especially if it is the best I have ever performed.
This gives us an insight into today’s Epistle and Gospel.
In the Gospel we have the Pharisee being smug about himself because he considers himself better than the publican standing nearby.
He relies on the obvious faults of the publican to justify his own lack of effort to be truly holy. He is satisfied with the general appearance of things; the general impression that others would have of the matter.
What should the Pharisee have done? Not worry at all about whether he is better or worse than the publican, but simply evaluate himself in the light of God’s mercy; seek to overcome whatever faults he has and do better for the future.
When I go to Confession I should not be concerned for the sins others confess, but my main focus is what do I need to do differently in my life?
We can learn from what happens to others, both from their sins and their virtues; but we must concentrate on seeking our own improvement; especially not using the failures of others to justify our own.
If others are holier than I am then I can rejoice in that.
If you love God more than I do then I am glad for your sake. For me it should be an incentive to increase my own efforts. Outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 12,10)
It is all healthy if we are competing for the glory of God. Let us maintain between us a high standard and make it even higher.
It is not relevant who is the holiest person around; what counts is that each of us is striving to improve on our own level of holiness.
This ties in with the Epistle: if you have certain gifts give thanks for them; use them for God’s glory. If you have five talents and he has two don't think yourself better than he is; and if someone else has ten talents don't be jealous. Just run with what you have and it may be increased.
What a scourge jealousy is and also complacency. I look down on those I consider worse than I am, and envy those who are better. This is not the way.
The Body of Christ, like any body, needs all its parts to work together.
The focus on one’s own holiness is not self-centredness in the wrong sense. It is a rigorous humility which refuses to excuse avoidable weakness and which seeks improvement - not to impress others but to give greater glory to God.
The saints never sought to be holy just to receive the praises of other people; but because it was the only fitting way to give something back to God.
In the fulness of God’s plans we will not only be individually holy but holy as one body; meaning that the Body of Christ will function as one unit, with each part playing its role, like the instruments of an orchestra.
In this case the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. When we give our best - which includes a complete lack of jealousy - we will be brought together by the Holy Spirit in one harmonious whole, pleasing to God.
This is what we ask for today, as we all take the part of the publican: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.