One day a rabbi, in a frenzy of religious passion, rushed in before the ark (the area of the synagogue where the sacred scrolls are stored), fell to his knees, and started beating his breast, crying, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”
The cantor of the synagogue, impressed by this example of spiritual humility, joined the rabbi on his knees. “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!” The “shamus” (custodian), watching from the corner, couldn’t restrain himself, either. He joined the other two on his knees, calling out, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!” At which point the rabbi, nudging the cantor with his elbow, pointed at the custodian, and said, “Look who thinks he’s nobody!”
(From Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart, edited by Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield)
Competition is part of human nature. The popularity of sporting events and superstar athletes certainly provide ample evidence of that fact. As I write, those who love to watch football are preparing for the AFC playoff game featuring New England’s beloved Patriots—the 17th time Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off in an important football game.
Competition may even intrude into matters of the Spirit, as the story above suggests. But such competition may become misdirected, as it did with the rabbi of the story.
As Lent approaches, I’ve been thinking about the true nature of competition for Christians:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned…Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Romans 12.3, 9-13
Such competition, Paul suggests, builds a Christian community, even if it is a community of nobodys. Outdoing one another in showing honor and love and patience is the competition that makes us the church. Perhaps that can be the completion in which we engage during Lent this year.