Thursday, September 17, 2009
Reflection for 20 September 2009
The gospel today is the second of three cycles in which Jesus predicts his passion, only to be misunderstood by the disciples, at which point he has to make clear what it means to be an agent of the reign of God. This time, they respond to his prediction by trying to out-ego each other: arguing about who is the greatest. To even begin this argument is already to lose - even if you win the argument, you have lost all the more. This isn't about acting servantish to pad one's Christian curriculum vitae - as a student once told me about a very religiously upright classmate, "He takes a lot of pride in how humble he is." I know I fall into some kind of regression of that - either inflating my ego for being in religious life (as if having a title or a special outfit makes me anything other than the sinner that I am), or taking pride in not being caught up in religious showiness (at the expense of people that I assume are superficial in their Christianity). O wretched that I am - wherever I go, self-absorption seems constantly to be nipping at my heels. The reading from James underscores the insidiousness of coveting what is around us, seeing other people who make us feel inadequate or defensive: "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? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war." Despite some of the crazy directions that early Calvinist thinkers spun Calvin out on, his concept of chosenness is important: instead of worrying about what you can to do "get saved," (faith/works/both) Calvin pushs past that kind of a focus on me and myself to what is really important: the glory of God.