One of the best aspects of following God is that we're never in competition with anyone except ourselves. There's no pressure to be better than someone else, no cause to fear being inferior to others, no reason to stop being who we are.
God never expects us to become someone else. We need only use the gifts and personality God gives us " to the fullest extent we're able.
In a world teeming with competition, we sometimes fall into the trap of bringing a competitive mentality to our faith. Yet, over and over again, both Jesus and our Sacred Authors call us not to compete, but to convert. They invite us to experience a metanoia " a total change of our value system " and they constantly give examples and point out areas where others have had such an experience.
Ezekiel sets the stage (Ez 18: 25-28) by assuring us that personal conversion is possible. "When the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed," Yahweh proclaims, "and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away form all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.
"God chains none of us with the past. On the contrary, our faith in God's love and forgiveness is the force which shatters the restraints that usually keep us from becoming the person we know we can be.
Obviously responding to criticism about His won belief in metanoia, Jesus comes up with a hypothetical example (Mt 21:2832) of a father telling both of his sons, "Go out and work in the vineyard today." The first replies, "Yes!" but never goes; the second says, "No!" but eventually goes. "Which of the two did what the father wanted?" Jesus asks.
There's only on legitimate response: "The second." The boy who repents is the son who ends up doing what the father wants.
Then Jesus springs the trap. "The only one around here who seem to be following the reform John the Baptizer preached," He points out, "are the tax collectors and prostitutes." In other words, "They who originally said, `No!' to God are now saying, `Yes!' Meanwhile, you who claim to have originally said `Yes!' are actually saying `No!'"
Jesus isn't calling us to join a competitive religion; He's calling us to experience a personal conversion. If we listen carefully to the second reading (Phil 2:1-11), He's calling us to experience the same kind of conversion He experienced.
Jesus the man
Because we frequently apply later (and sometimes even non-Biblical) theology to the earliest Scriptural images of Jesus, we ignore or overlook some of our Sacred Authors' most important insights. For instance, once we explore all the implications of Jesus being God form the beginning of eternity, we presume His divinity was so dominating that it squeezed every trace of humanity out of His personality.
Like John, we no longer mention an agony in the garden. How could God struggle with God over God's will? Because of our adherence to this later theology, we either forget or ignore what the world's expert on Jesus' divinity, Rev. Bernard Longeran, reminded me of during my Licentiate exam: "Jesus isn't depicted as God during His agony. At that point, He's purely human." Our three earliest evangelists described such a scene and weren't condemned as heretics. But most of us simply ignore what they said.
Many of us also look the other way when we hear our earliest Christian author, Paul, mention that Jesus "emptied and humbled Himself." The Apostle goes even further, saying that Jesus "obediently accepted even death, death on a cross." Emptying, humbling and accepting imply a conversion in Jesus' own life: a turning to God in a way He hadn't turned before. Paul believes that precisely "because of this [conversion], God highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name [Yahweh] above every other name." Paul obviously has room in his theology for an agony in the garden.
Those who spend their lives trying to be better than others, never quite grasp the point of Sunday's three readings. But those who daily struggle with becoming what God calls them to become think they're some of the most important passages in Scripture.