It’s amazing how many people, including priests and religious, fish for compliments. You only have to look at Facebook and most of the comments and posts are all about me, me, me. When we have done something admirable or we have an ability that we’re really proud of, it can be tempting to draw attention to it. Even when we resist the temptation, we can promote ourselves in our own minds, imagining the compliments we would like to receive.
After Our Lord announced how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, Peter piped up with some compliment fishing of his own: “We have given up everything and followed you”. It’s as if he were saying: “Give us some credit here!” But Our Lord cut him off, maybe in an effort to save Peter from embarrassing himself. Yes, you have done well, he said, and you will be rewarded.
But then Our Lord says a few words, easy to repeat, easy even to understand, but hard to take in fully: “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first”. Peter had learned the way of the Gospel as far as giving up everything to follow Our Lord. But he hadn’t yet learned that Our Lord calls us to give up even our desire to achieve, our striving to be first. Our Lord calls us to follow him all the way to the Cross.
As we prepare to observe Lent, let’s keep this truth in mind. God is calling us to free ourselves from the world and our fallen nature. He is calling us to devote ourselves to him and to his kingdom. But it’s easy to become proud of our Lenten observances and, like Peter, we want to promote ourselves. Just read some of the comments on Facebook tomorrow: Johnny is keeping Lent. Aren’t I doing well….?
We don’t have to argue our case before God, or indeed anyone else. God sees everything we do for him, and he delights in all of it. So what’s the point in promoting ourselves and drawing attention to the things we do? Is it not enough to know that God knows? We should be happy to be at the very back of the line as we walk through the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.