Watching the Orioles this season has been an exciting ride for us in Baltimore who have waited fifteen years for our Birds to post a winning season – let alone a pennant race. However, as we approach the end of September, we now have the opportunity to purchase post-season tickets for our own team.
There’s a saying in sports: “You play for the name on the front of your jersey, not the one on the back.” This is an essential element of teamwork and sportsmanship. When you are more worried about individual achievement, honors and stats, cooperation falls to the wayside and it is nearly impossible to succeed as a team. It’s one of the reasons I am not a fan of “fantasy leagues”; a particular player’s team may never win, but as long as his individual stats are good folks are happy.
Today in our Gospel, the Apostles fall into this trap. On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus again lays out His mission – the team’s mission – and it is a difficult one. "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." We are told that the disciples heard this but did not understand it, and no one tried to ask Jesus to clarify or explain.
They had other things to argue about.
The Apostles proceed to ignore Jesus and bicker among themselves about which one of them was the “greatest.” You can hear them, can’t you? Comparing individual stats – looking at who had the most “Jesus points.” Instead of reflecting on what the Master had said and meant, they spend that time comparing themselves with one another, without a care for the fact that their friend and Teacher had just told them that he was going to die.
When Jesus heard of this He must have been sad and frustrated. However, he doesn’t yell at them. Rather, he teaches them about humility, service, and true greatness.
We, too, can fall into the same trap as the Apostles. St. James, in our Second Reading, recognized this too. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” In other words, is it our passions – our will to please ourselves – that bring us into conflict with other people? Our desires to be best, to be right, to win, to get ahead, to be successful – all these things, while they may drive us on, also drive us over others, and that starts conflict. When we want to win, that means that there have to be losers; when we get ahead, we usually leave someone behind.
Jesus had talked about His own impending Passion; the disciples were letting their passions get in the way of their understanding Him. As He brings that child into their midst, Jesus gives them the true game plan: ““Who is the greatest in the kingdom? I’ll tell you who: those like this little one – without power, without status, without ambition. These are the ones you need to pay attention to. Stop listening to your own passions and become part of mine.”
We too are called to see in the weaknesses of the marginalized and powerless an invitation to participate in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. When we are weak, it is then that we are strong, as St. Paul would say. There are more opportunities to see Christ’s message in those who suffer and who need us than there are in wealth, power and prestige.
St. James offers us this wisdom: “the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
It’s exciting for me now to turn on MASN and watch my O’s chase the AL East pennant. Some of our guys are putting up great years. But more importantly, they are working as a team – and they’re having fun doing it. Their passion for the game is drawing us all in to the exciting ride that is our season.
As Christians, called to listen to and follow Christ, may our passion for Him be just as electric, just as visible, so that other can catch the excitement too.