I coached enough good and not so good soccer players (and teams) to tell the difference. The better players kept their eyes on the goal of winning the game no matter what happened. When my not focused on the prize athletes got fouled, they would look for a chance to get the other guy back. And you know the one who retaliates ALWAYS gets caught. And we’d be penalized. And usually end up losing the game. The focused players would also get fouled, but would channel that energy into making even better plays, and working harder. They would elevate their game another notch, playing for the only whistle that mattered, not for a foul called or missed, but the one that signified the game was over, and we had won. By keeping their eyes on the prize, they brought the very best of whom they were to the game, and encouraged that from their teammates.
Jesus knew that it was vital for their followers to do the same, to keep their eyes on the prize. At the end of the gospel, we hear that in terms of the biggest picture – entering into the kingdom of heaven. So whatever choice in the short run you need to make – to symbolically cut off hands or feet – that is what discipleship asks of you. But we also hear about that in a more here and now context, from both Jesus and Moses. We hear the story of two of their followers, Joshua and John, who lost that ‘big picture’ kind of perspective.
And though it is easy to fault them, I find it very easy to understand how it happened. They both were a little caught up in the excitement of being on the ground floor of leadership, a little enthusiastic about what THEY were doing to help the cause. Most of us do get excited when we are in a place where we can make a difference. There is a lot of energy about being able to help, no matter what the cause or project. Because of that, we invest a lot of ourselves. We get good at what WE are doing. But here is where Joshua and John went wrong, and where, if we are honest, we often get it wrong as well. They got caught up in their roles in winning the prize, and not the prize itself.
Why was Joshua trying to stop Eldad and Medad who missed the final meeting, but none-the-less, upon whom God’s spirit had come? Moses names it. You are jealous, and you are trying to keep the prerogatives of ministry to the folks who followed all the rules and attended the necessary graduation ceremony. So, too, John complains: “They’re not card carrying disciples. They haven’t paid their dues by walking and working and learning and struggling with you.” What is unspoken is the “And I have. I’ve done the homework and the hard work and put up with a lot for your sake. I should be getting the recognition that these guys are…”
And, unfortunately, this behavior happens in parish staffs and in chancery offices and diocesan committees all around the world folks. You and I have seen it. Perhaps we have been unwittingly a part of it. Those petty jealousies and turf wars and trying to protect our job and our roles because it is what we do. So subtly, in our zeal, it has become about US and not about the mission.
So what do Moses and Jesus both do when confronted by this very human response? They invite their followers to keep their eyes on the prize. “Would that ALL the people were prophets” – doing the work of revealing God’s glory through Israel for the good of the world.” “Do not prevent them. Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s all about the driving out of the demons and the power of evil, and not about WHO is driving them out. How wonderfully wise and generous are both Moses and Jesus. They know the prize. They know that accomplishing the mission is what matters. Not who has power, who is recognized, who has the ‘role’/authority. Instead it’s all about “Gettin’ it done.” Get the work of the kingdom done.
So, how do you know if you struggle with that turf war mentality. Let me propose a quick litmus test: “How easy is it for me to complement someone for work done, to recognize the gift they bring?” If that is easy for you, then thanks for bringing that enthusiasm to our common work as a church. If you struggle doing that, then ask for the grace to reframe your point of view so as to take your ego out of it.
When it is all said and done, each of us are called to be a conduit of grace. Each of us is invited to bring God’s love to the world. Can we say with Moses, “Would that everyone be a prophet?” Can we say with Jesus: “If you are not against me, you are with me.” “Lord, give us the grace to let the mission of the church be our great priority…