25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 23, 2018
“Compare and Despair”
Back in 2010, a Jesuit priest named James Martin published what I think is an excellent book.
It is titled: A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. It is insightful and enjoyable reading.
At one point, James Martin talks about the human tendency to compare ourselves with others. Sometimes we look at others and their lives and may feel down because we think we don’t have it as good as they do.
James Martin says that this tendency to compare is a real trap. He has this little saying: “Compare and despair.” “Compare and despair.”
He says that when we compare, we often minimize the good things in our own lives and maximize the good things in other persons’ lives. And ironically, we often maximize the bad things in our own lives and minimize the bad things in other persons’ lives.
So, “Compare and despair.” Martin advises that we just be with our own strengths and challenges and find our peace right there.
Striving to Be First
This insight helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.
The apostles have been arguing about which of them should be number one – above all the others. On the surface, each of them is asserting that he should be number one because of his own special talents.
But my bet is that, underneath the surface, each of them feels less than the others and that being designated as number one would make them feel better. They are comparing and, as Martin says: “Compare and despair.”
In response to this, Jesus points to a little child. And with the child, he teaches two lessons.
1. See the Value of Each Person
First, each of us is already valuable just in being ourselves.
In the culture of Jesus’ day, children were at the bottom of the ladder. For example, if a family did not have enough food, the father would eat first, then the mother, and only then would the children get what was left over.
This sounds backwards to us. In our culture, some of our parents may have held back on eating or on buying something so that the children could have enough.
Well, in that very different culture, Jesus says, “Whoever receives a child such as this, receives me.” He’s saying that a child and who that child symbolizes is valuable – anyone seen as insignificant, powerless or hurting.
So, if a child has such value and worth, then each of us does too. Our value is inherent in our very being and is given to us by God.
This means that we don’t have to compare ourselves with anyone and we don’t have to be above others, as the apostles were trying to do. Our value or self-worth is already there.
2. Care for the Least
And then Jesus teaches a second lesson with this child.
He calls us to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting among us. He does this when he calls us to receive the little child as if we were receiving him.
So, we are not to compare ourselves and see ourselves as better than those whose income is at poverty level. We are not to look upon them as a drain on society.
When we do this kind of comparing, the “Compare and despair”rule acts in reverse. Here we will not be caring for those in need and so they will despair.
I sometimes think of it this way. In a hospital, the health care professionals simply treat us when we are sick.
They don’t ask if our intestinal or coronary trouble is our own fault because of eating fatty foods and, if that’s the case, they refuse to treat us. They simply treat us, help us to get better, and then advise us on how to take care of ourselves.
Well, in the same way, we are to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting in our society. We are to do this without comparing and seeing them as below us or as undeserving.
And interestingly, Jesus is saying that again, in doing this, we ourselves will find self-worth. Our sense of self will be strengthened and enhanced.