Competition can be a good thing. St. Paul himself urges us to “compete well for the faith” and likens the whole of Christian life to the competition of a race. He reminds us that all compete for a single prize…”Run therefore so as to win!” Competition can indeed be a good thing when it causes us to strive to be the very best we can be. Yet, as is often the case, the devil can take what is good and twist it.
A good spirit of competition can degrade to the spirit of “jealousy and selfish ambition” spoken of by St. James in the today’s second reading. Instead of competing to be the very best we can be, how often to we instead try to bring others down? How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that putting someone else down somehow makes me higher? This is what is happening in our first reading today. Here we have a just man who is mocked and attacked all because he is trying to be holy and others don’t like it and try to tear him down. This is competition turned to jealousy and selfish ambition indeed.
We see this tendency in the corporate world too where getting ahead can often mean pushing back a bunch of others. In climbing the corporate ladder too often we see people not at all concerned about the people they are stepping on while trying to get to the top. All of this is summed up in one word, “use.” We can be guilty of using people for what they can do for us. We try to win friends and influence people by having the right friends that can get something for us.
As John Paul taught us, the opposite of love is not hate, but use. We should never use another person as a means to an end. To disrupt the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition of our society we need love. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. In the face of selfishness and a desire for power, Jesus gives self emptying. He who is on top of the power chain, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, gives it all up. He uses his power to serve and wins with love.
The apostles obviously don’t understand and famously argue about who it the greatest. They are still stuck in the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition. To disrupt this Jesus gives the example of a child. If you think about it, what advantage is a child in this scheme of using people to climb higher. You really don’t gain anything by having “influential friends” amongst 2nd graders. A child has nothing to offer your selfish ambition. Rather, a child must be served. This is how we should see people, someone to be served without jealousy or selfish ambition.