September 26, 2021
|Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
|Praying Ordinary Time|
Why would we be jealous unless we are angling to be first at something? I grew up in a family of ten siblings, seven brothers and two sisters. I was one of the two in the middle and had three older brothers and four younger. One sister was the oldest and one the youngest. It was a competitive crowd to be a part of. In struggling to get attention and approval from our overworked parents we often fought over who was “better” or “more loved.” It may not have been that obvious, it might have been over the value of Christmas gifts, or the time spent with each of us, but there were signs and symbols easy to discover that encouraged us to be jealous of anyone else’s success.
The passages from today’s liturgy – both about Moses’ leadership group of 72 and Jesus’ leadership group of 12 – challenge me every time I ponder them. All too often it is easy to look at life as a “zero sum” game where there are never enough material resources for all the projects to be supported, never enough time and emotional energy for everyone to be assured of their innate value. Competition is therefore built in, both to reward the “extra edge” that someone has and to protect the parents or teachers or bosses from being perceived as favoring someone (they still are, of course) or to put everyone in the right category or even caste. We even treat love itself as a commodity that is limited. Unfortunately, our experience shows us that humans are indeed limited; there is only so much “love” in terms of time, attention, gifts etc. to be given.
But shortly after college I was privileged to make the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in a directed 30-day retreat. There I discovered that God is limitless. There are no boundaries on Divine Love. Furthermore, it cannot be earned or manipulated. It is freely and infinitely given.
The amazing process of unlearning the dynamics of budgeted love and embracing instead the stunning generosity of limitless compassion as pure and undeserved gift, is a huge challenge. When I think of Jesus gazing on the disciples with this kind of love after they have been sniping behind his back or cutting each other down I realize why it is so difficult for us to cooperate with God in overcoming racism or various forms of categorization of human superiority (such as money, education, or talent). While we engage in untruths, we project the lies we tell ourselves onto others, while we profess care, we ignore; while we seem to admire others, we think of ways “to be better than” they are. We even take terms for core spiritual values that build up the Reign of God and use them as weapons to overcome God’s Reign.
“Magis” is one of those loaded words that becomes a tool to make us idolators. The Ignatian implication of the Latin word is a shorthand for doing all that one can do for the sake of God’s Reign and to express gratitude for God’s glory, It involves engaging with children and those who are not valued; discovering not what we can do for them, but what God wants to do for us and for all together. To be about Magis is not to be smarter, richer or more charming (necessarily) but is precisely to do what will bring God the “greater glory.”
If my talent makes me think I am better, it will drive me outside of God’s love (Gehenna). It is better to give up such a gift than to end up in hell for the applause and admiration it brought me.
That is quite an invitation on this beautiful day in the Kingdom of God.
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