I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me.
We oscillate between self-made and God made. There is a tug of war between worldly and spiritual. Exalted against humble. Self-righteousness versus true righteousness.
Our identity falls somewhere in between that of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We know we need to be humble but struggle to remain. The races of this world declares a winner when we have left everyone behind. The race St Paul speaks of is not of winning but of completing. “I have run the race to the finish”.
Everyday life constantly demands a race out of us. We fight to be the best in school, at work, in social life and in everything we do. Meritocracy is the system, and often there is nothing much wrong with that, and there is nothing much we can do about it. The world rewards a winner. And so ‘I’ need to excel and to exalt myself.
Christian life reminds ‘me’ that every time ‘I’ win, there will be a trail of disappointed people as a consequence. But I cannot give up my place in university or my promotion at work. I have earned it. It is mine. ‘I’ am blessed with abundant gifts and talents. ‘I’ have made the most of it, seizing opportunities that come my way. A self-made man, “God, be thankful for me, a winner” who have used your gifts to the full.
Everyday Christian life calls out to us. It reminds us of the people around us, those left in the trail of disappointments; those perhaps who have less than us. To win the race in everyday life, we have to use our talents and outfight everyone else. To win the race in Christian life, the one St Paul described, is to use our talents and help those around us, to finish the race.
Christian life is a journey. Born into this world, a journey that can take us in many directions. Like an open desert, we can go in any direction but risk being lost. But God has given us a compass and equipped us with talents.
Our race is to get away from the poverty of this worldly life into the riches of the heaven of eternal life. On the way, we fight the elements of this world, the distractions that will lead us off course and deeper into a desert of spiritual poverty. To God, the ‘winner’ are those who complete the race of life, not by being the only one emerging from it, but rather how we fought to stay the course of Christian morality. He crowns those who had been righteous in his name.
Often it involves us using our gifts and talents to help the neighbours along the way to finish their race as we finish ours. It is not about crossing the finish line alone and ahead of everyone else but rather to cross it with as many neighbours as we can in whose lives we had made a helpful impact.
Our present identity probably falls somewhere in between that of the Pharisee and the tax collector; the value system of this world constantly lures us deeper into desert of spiritual poverty but the voice of the Spirit is often heard in the desert calling us into a humility of total dependence on God to lead us into heavenly riches. This tug of war, this oscillation, is our conversion process.
This is our true race: to complete our conversion when instead of saying “God be thankful for I am a winner”, we say “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. In this fight to complete our race, humility is our grinding stone. To God, be the glory.
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time