Meditation for 28 September 2014, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Exodus 17: 1 – 17, Philippians 2: 1 – 13, Matthew 21: 23 – 32
Somewhere in my academic files is a paper entitled “Whadja Get?” It is, I believe, the first draft of a paper that was to be submitted for publication. I base this on the fact that the author’s name is not on it nor is there any reference to what journal the author was submitting. I suppose that, on that basis, I could publish it and claim it as my own and take the heat if it is in fact published elsewhere. But that is 1) the subject of another piece and 2) not the reason I mention it at this time.
The purpose of this particular paper was to discuss, in the early/mid 1980s, the idea of grades in a classroom. We were then and are now dominated by a “bottom-line” mentality, especially in the area of education. The grade you receive in any course is supposed to represent some measure of what you know about that subject but often times is more reflective of your standing in the class.
When I was teaching college, I found myself spending the first day or two outlining how one achieved success in my classroom. I was and still and am convinced that much of that fell on deaf ears, because most of the students were only interested in what was the fastest and easiest way to get an “A” in the course. And many of those students did not like my rule for extra credit: Extra credit was possible, provided all the other work had been completed.
Now, I will be honest. I grew up in a competitive environment and, while not explicitly stated, being “number 1” was always the goal. But I also learned that the deck was often stacked against those, such as I, who were newcomers to the system. And many times, it wasn’t what you did but who you were and where you came from that counted more.
Fortunately for me, there were individuals in my life who made sure that our competition was fun and we did things right. I will always remember one particular contest that had several parts, most of which we could do by ourselves. There was one requirement, though; you had to do have a partner so there were no questions. I had a friend who wanted to win this particular competition and he asked me to be his partner. The outcome was that my friend won the particular competition and I finished in the top five. Now, I suppose that if I wanted to, I could have finished higher with a little more effort but to finish 5th without trying and, in the process, helping someone else was a pretty good outcome.
I wonder sometimes if we are so focused on the outcome that we fail to consider what we are doing. Throughout the Exodus, the Israelites constantly questioned the purpose of their trip, never considering what they were getting as a result. In the Old Testament passage for today, it was about the quantity of fresh water that was available. For some of the Israelites, being in slavery in Egypt was more preferable to searching for water in the desert.
In the Gospel reading for today, the people are more concerned with the trappings of power than they are with the validity of the message those with the trappings give. And yet, in today’s society, an easy life, bound by slavery to ritual and trappings, is a preferred life to one that is free but requires work.
I think about what Paul wrote to the Philippians about how they should be living their lives. I think, though I am not a scholar on the topic, that one of Paul’s common themes was the relationship of Christ in our lives. He writes to the Philippians about Christ taking on the status of a slave and, through that process, achieving a greater status.
And notice what else Paul wrote; by living a life with Christ, we gain an energy that will enable and sustain in all that what we do.
I can think of many verses in the Bible in both the Old and New Testament that speak of victory. But it is not a victory that comes from being alone at the finish line but the victory that comes when others celebrate in the same victory.
I have no doubt what people want and there are many times that I want many of the same things. But what will you get if all you seek are those things that have no meaning tomorrow?
What are your priorities? In seeking that which you treasure, will you lose what is more valuable?