By Joe Oliveri
I remember as a young Catholic school student, going to lunch was the thing everyone anticipated. Really, whatever school or job you went to or go to now, everyone can't wait to go to lunch.
It seems it was just yesterday that my fifth grade classmates and I suffered through a boring lecture on the history of who knows what, when the final two minutes on the clock would tick away. Kids on the edge of their seats, especially those who were going to buy their lunch, and especially if it was cheesy breadstick day. Mmmmm…
It was a coveted place, the front of the lunch line. Since, for some reason back then and even sometimes now,
it feels better to be first.
In the infamous words of Ricky Bobby, "If you ain't first, you're last." However, Jesus has a different message in today’s gospel.
"But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
I remember the very religion class which introduced to us spoiled children this spiritual wisdom from Jesus. All of the bickering and pushing and bullying to be first or at least near the front just didn't make sense anymore to me. If I was first, I would be last. Therefore, I need to be last to be first!
Now that I am older and more mature, I see that this fight for being first is more than just a race to the lunch line. I witness media that cares more about being first than getting all the facts together. I faced an undergrad experience in college where those who had the “most fun" at parties were the ones who truly lived it up to the fullest.
As I continually grow as a disciple of Christ, I respond to our universal call of holiness by not vying for popularity and success.
I am striving for the Kingdom of God, living out the kingdom come.
Because of this, reading today’s gospel challenges me to flip my notion of "being first" that I've been told by the culture I live in.
Jesus tells me in the gospel today that if I measure myself by the world's standards and continue to follow my own will, I might as well be a camel fitting myself through the eye of a needle. So then, how could I possibly be first from being last?
“But for God, all things are possible.”
What comforting and empowering words. This promise of Jesus allows me to trust in God's love. For it is one big race to the top in the world’s eyes, but I will always be first in God's eyes.
Humility has been on my mind a lot these days. Talk to any of my theology graduate classmates and they will speak of my fascination. I think it strikes my interest because humility is often misunderstood and left behind in the spiritual quest, yet it is highly valued in the Christian tradition. I think the gospel today gives me another lesson in humility; that humility is more than being okay with last place, but
humility is boldly trusting “for God, all things are possible”
and that my “status” is found solely in God’s love for me. This truth is what to cause my every action, to lead me towards the Kingdom of God.
However, so often I catch myself returning to the immature boy who races to the front. I welcome thoughts of fear “if I were last, what would that make me?” I doubt my faith that maybe if I don’t have it all figured out, then what is the point? Then, humility reminds me who(se) I am. A beloved child of God. Humility reminds me what I am truly striving for. The Kingdom of God.
This day, I am striving for more than popularity, praise, success, and even cheesy breadsticks. I am striving for the Kingdom of God, where the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe is a Residence Life Minister at the University of Dayton. Besides completing his Masters in Pastoral Ministry at UD, he spends his free time hiking at the local metroparks, watching the latest film in theaters on half-price movie night, and performing with his band Anew to Wander. He highly recommends Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen for your next read.