1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22b-27
I have served as a lector and taught lector training for decades. I take proclamation of the word very seriously, with the aim of making it come alive so God can change people’s hearts. I must admit, though, that I share one of Paul’s sentiments. He fears he does not sufficiently live what he preaches. Like him, I constantly have to ask myself how faithfully I live what I proclaim and how willingly I allow God to change my own heart.
Take the lessons of today’s readings. Jesus tells us to take the beam out of our own eye before noticing the splinter in another’s. I admit to too many times I have judged another person for a fault I myself carry. In fact, psychologists tell us the characteristics that bother us the most in other people, if we look closely and honestly, are the same characteristics we fear in ourselves and which we struggle to overcome. It’s just so much easier to criticize it in someone else, thereby deflecting attention from my own shortcomings.
Paul says that when he preaches, he is simply doing his job. He expects no adulation or praise as a result, instead pointing to the gospel and to Christ. How often have I wished to be like the grandstanding football players, who boldly act as if every tackle, pass, or touchdown were an impressive personal victory rather than a part of their job which could not have been achieved if it weren’t for the team? (Imagine an Easter Vigil at which the neophytes emerge from the font dripping wet and scented with oil while the sponsors give a chest bump, pump their fists, point to themselves and yell "Yeah!!") Can I let go of that all-too-human need for recognition and humbly join Paul in saying that when I proclaim scripture well, when I help people heal, when I teach a class or give a presentation, I am simply doing my job?
Paul also says to run the race well, constantly training and improving and keeping the goal in mind. The "race" of which Paul speaks is not a sprint; it is an endurance event with multiple obstacles. Yet I am sometimes woefully lacking in my commitment to the foundational training practices that allow me to stay on course. How much time do I take out of my over-scheduled day for prayer? What percentage of my stacks of required reading helps inform and challenge my faith? When is the last time I went on a retreat, allowing God a more extended time to work within me?
And these are just a few lessons from one day of readings! When I start listing all the ways I fall short of the scripture I proclaim, it gets discouraging. I can feel like nothing more than the blind leading the blind, unsure whether I am even doing what God wants.
I believe Paul would counsel continuing to strive, yet concentrating on Christ rather than my own imperfections. As today’s psalm says, God is the sun who sees and lights the path. God is my shield and ever-faithful companion. God withholds no good thing from one who acts with sincerity. God is my ultimate home, my nest, my secure dwelling place. Perhaps one day I will be able to stand before God and hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Hopefully I will also be able to reply, "You’re welcome; I was only doing my job."
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.