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Winning Last Place
A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark 8:34-9:1
(Internet Image of the Seven First Fathers of the Order of Servites}
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:34–37 NABRE)
Jesus is Lord!
Christians announce these words all the time. But do we live that way? If Jesus is our Lord, we must deny ourselves, pick up His cross and follow Him. To follow the Lord sounds glorious until we really have to do it.
Consider the cross. It is heavy to carry and laced with pain, especially after being betrayed, scourged, and mocked by others. To pick up the cross demands a life of humility and detachment—in short, love.
Our Lord hung naked on the cross; everything He had in the world was stripped away. Many of His closest friends and family were nowhere to be seen. Where were the crowds that had so jubilantly adored Him less than a week before as He entered Jerusalem? Even His clothes were taken by the world and gambled away.
All is stripped away except a courageous determination to love with wild abandon.
All this our Lord did to fulfill the will of the Father, to make possible the forgiveness of our sins and entry into heaven. One who claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he walked. Are we—you and I—really ready to deny our own wants and desires, to forsake worldly power, ambition, money, and pleasure, to follow Christ?
The Great Race!
Several years ago, there were stories of a great bicycle race in a rural community. The route was grueling, passing through steep hills, and over a great distance. The announced prize was an immense trophy to each winner in every age class and a cash prize of $100,000. As you can imagine, this drew the very best bicyclists from around the country. These cyclists brought their very best bikes, road support teams, and were equipped with the finest of cycling gear. There were also several locals that registered to race. They frankly did not care about the trophy but were intent on the prize money.
The money was critical to pay off debts or save a loved one.
When the day of the race came, all lined up and with a shot, the race began. The very best quickly outpaced the locals, they just could not compete. A small group who began with the very best, slowly began to drop back to help those who were struggling to compete. They seemed to give up the glory of winning themselves to assist those around them.
Most of these racers finished last helping everyone else complete the race. At the end of the race, those who finished first, at the top of their class, pushed their way to the front, so that it would be easier for them to receive their prize. The trophy, gaudily decorated and eye catching, was indeed given to the top finishers.
The sponsor of the race then stepped forward with several $100,000 checks and announced that the prize money would go to those who finished last. There was a lot of anger from the group who finished first, but as the sponsor of the race stated, “I never specified who the winners were, first or last and, after all, it is my prize to award.” In his words, “the true winners of this race gave up all personal glory, denied themselves, and instead, raced with great love.”
(Internet Image at Jom)
Winning Last Place
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order. The Servites are a community of men who serve God’s people wherever they are called. They were founded in 1233 by a group of seven very wealthy cloth merchants of Florence. These seven men left their wealth, occupations, prestige and families to withdraw outside the gates of Florence and live a life of poverty, penance, fellowship and service.
They picked up the Lord’s cross.
Their object was to be sanctified in service to the Lord and then, to seek the sanctification of all humanity through devotion to the Mother of God. They are those who stopped racing to be first, seeking worldly trophies: power, money, ambition, and pleasure. Instead, they picked up the cross, and followed Jesus. For,
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? (Mark 8:36–37 NABRE)
The Lord tells you and I in the Gospel today that we are to lose, as he did, all that holds us to this world for His sake, for Love’s sake, and in doing so, win the true prize, heaven. The first step with the cross is humility, winning last place! Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-538) put it beautifully,
“One who claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he walked. Would you follow Christ? Then be humble as he was humble. Do not scorn His lowliness if you want to reach His exaltation. Human sin made the road rough. Christ’s resurrection leveled it. By passing over it himself, he transformed the narrowest of tracks into a royal highway. Two feet are needed to run along this highway; they are humility and charity. Everyone wants to get to the top—well, the first step to take is humility.” (Sermon 159, 1.4–6 as quoted in Oden)
Today is a call to take that first step of humility, stop trying to come in first and achieve the trophies of the world. The second step is enabled by the first, charity, love for our neighbor. These steps place God in first place, others in second, and us very firmly in Last. St Paul tells us to run the race so as to win (1Cor 9:24). Jesus today in the Gospel tells us how to win,
“whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35b NABRE)
Jom. “Lending Teammates and Friends a Helping Hand.” Gravel Cyclist: The Gravel Cycling Experience, 26 Aug. 2019, https://www.gravelcyclist.com/videos/lending-teammates-and-friends-a-helping-hand-not-really/.
Oden, Thomas C., and Cindy Crosby, eds. Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle B. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
“Seven First Fathers of the Order of Servites.” A Catholic Life, 17 Feb. 2006, https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2006/02/seven-founders-of-order-of-servites.html.