Ours is a culture of exclusion and achievement.
We as a society lavish praise on “top performers” … “the best”. Corporate America is on an never-ending quest for people who can take them to “the next level”.
Sadly, the world’s toxic values have penetrated the church. We enshrine the church’s biggest donors with plaques on the wall. We lionize the church’s most active volunteers with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
What of the “also-rans”? What of the people whom the world leaves behind? The “losers” and second-place finishers?
What of the people whom Christ called “the least of these”?
Mind you, gratitude is important. The Apostle Paul writes:
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 18)
At the same time, we must take care not to allow the pursuit of status to become all-consuming. Once more, Paul writes:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
In this season of Lent, we are called to humble ourselves before God. We would do well to heed the words of John the Baptist:
“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31)
We must be ever mindful of He Who Comes From Above.
(Spoiler Alert: It’s not you … or me.)
Humility is a quality in short supply in our status-obsessed modern world. We judge our neighbor by what brand of smartphone they carry, the type of car they drive, and the labels on their clothing.
Humility is a quality we should strive to exhibit all year long (as opposed to being something we haul out for Lent and put away on Easter Sunday).
We must not allow the pursuit of status to overshadow the church’s primary mission of serving the poor and unfortunate in our society.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)