Fr Jim Cogley
Many years ago I read a little book called Hope for the Flowers. It was a book about ambition, and while a child could read it the story was more for adults than children. It was really about ambition in life, and particularly how we achieve our goals. It told of two ambitious slugs that wanted to get to the top of the pile, that to them was a mountain, and the different methods they used. Both got there in the end, but one did so on the principle
that the end justifies the means. Every other slug he met on his journey, that also wanted to get to the top, he used and subdued. He was competitive and determined to win at any cost. Eventually he had so many victims that he could only reach his destination by climbing over their bodies. Once at the top he naturally wanted to celebrate but only then realized that he had no one left to celebrate with, they were all dead. His was indeed a hollow victory. Like so many in the top jobs he had gained recognition but there was no one left to give him respect.
The other ambitious little slug also met his fellow travelers on the road and they decided that they were going to make it to the top together. So they shared their wisdom and resources and when one got injured they together helped him out and even delayed the journey when necessary. When the top was eventually reached, a bit later than originally planned, it had been a communal effort and so a major celebration was held in honour of their joint achievement. Not only that but the ambitious little slug who had helped tham all was given a special place of recognition and elected as the obvious leader.
The story of the two slugs with their contrasting attitudes is something we see happening all around us. There is a kind of blind ambition that can turn a person into a shark or even a monster who is totally oblivious to the feelings of others and has no qualms about how many get hurt as long as they get where they want to be. They tend to be utterly insensitive to the needs of others and don’t care how many they have to walk over as long as they get what they want.
In the Gospel Jesus is burdened and telling his disciples about his forthcoming passion and death. It’s a time when he needs their support and understanding but they can’t hear him. They are so caught up in their little boy games of who is the greatest that there was no pathway between their world and his.
That kind of ambition comes cloaked under many disguises. One of the big ones is the need to provide material security for ones family where work and business are placed before everything else. The ironic thing is that his wife and family would usually be far happier to see more of him than his income at the end of the year. Often, its only when the children have grown up that the father realizes that he was never there for them and by that stage it’s too late. The greatest legacy that he could have given them was his presence and memories of their time spent together and then the real sickner comes when he realizes that his kids can now earn ten times more than he ever did and don’t even need his money.
When Jesus asked them about what they had been arguing about on the road they had nothing to say. It was the silence of shame; they had no defense. Its strange how a thing takes its proper place and acquires its true character when it is set in the eyes of Jesus. So long as they thought that Jesus was not listening, and that he had not seen the argument about who was the greatest, all seemed fair enough, but when it was exposed to the presence of Jesus it was exposed in all its unworthiness.
The need to be right and to always come out on top in every argument is a big thing in so many of us. I asked a couple who were tearing strips off each other one time, ‘Which is more important, to be right or to remain in relationship’? Think about it, how many times in the past year have we ever reached that level of humility that can say ‘I was wrong’. In some marriages the words are never used. One woman said that going up the aisle she knew she was marrying Mr Right but took a few more months to realize that his first name was ‘always’.
If we were to take everything we say or do and set it in the light of Christ and his teaching what a difference it would make. If with everything we were to ask ‘could I go on doing this if Christ were watching me?’ If of everything we said we asked, ‘Could I go on talking like this if Christ were listening to me? There would be many things we would be saved from doing and saying.
The fact of Christian belief is that there are no ‘ifs’ about it. All things are done, and all our words are spoken in his presence. A useful prayer is ‘Lord keep me from saying and doing things for which I will be ashamed in your presence.
Our faith tells us that one day we will be held accountable for every choice we have made in life, for every word spoken, and for every deed done. What we are is God’s gift to us, who we become is our gift to God. It’s our choices regarding what we say and do that determine who we become, and what we become is our destiny both here and in the hereafter.