Galatians 6:1-3 (VOICE) My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. 2 Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. 3 Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip because you aren’t; then you become the fool and deceive even yourself.
I am not sure where I heard it first, or even the context, but there is this parable of sorts that goes like this: ‘When you're being chased by a bear, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the person next to you.’
It isn’t exactly a pleasant sentiment, but – even if you have never heard that exact phrase before – it is one that we are all familiar with. Everything in life, it seems is some kind of competition and most of us gauge our skill, our worth, our value, even our righteousness and faithfulness by comparing ourselves to others.
It seems like this is human nature. I certainly identify with this, on some level at least. I have never been interested in playing ‘just for fun’. If we are playing a game or a sport or anything really, I want to play for real. We are keeping score and we will know who the winner – and who the loser is. Honestly, it never seemed fun to play any other way.
Some of you may identify with that, and others won’t, but one area where far to many of us seek to compete or at least compare with each other is in our lives of faith. I don’t think we necessarily reason it out completely and we definitely don’t say it out loud, but often we think and act like we don’t have to be good, we just have to be better than the person next to us.
As if we didn’t already know better, let’s be clear: this is not at all the good news of the gospel that Jesus proclaimed to us. In fact, this comparing and jostling for who is better (or more likely, who is least worst) eliminates Jesus from the equation completely. We don’t need Jesus if it is just about who is better between us.
Beyond leaving Jesus out – which seems like a major problem – there are other issues as well. First, Jesus came to earth because none of us are capable of righteousness on our own. So, no matter how many people we might compare well against, it isn’t enough. We still fall short.
Second, this comparison leads us to interact with each other in exactly the opposite way that God intends. If my path to grace, forgiveness, and righteousness is in competition with you (and all of us), then it only makes sense to look for, point out, and attack the areas where others fall short. We have all been on one end or the other of this type of behavior and it is, simply, ugly. Not the full live we are called to in Jesus.
Instead, we are to act like this: ‘if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. 2 Shoulder each other’s burdens’. Instead of jumping on each other’s faults and falls, we are called to pick each other up, and to care for and even carry each other when necessary.
There is another parable I picked up over the years, that is sort of the antithesis of the first one about outrunning the bear. This one was taught to me by one of my Cameroonian friends from my last congregation: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, travel together. This philosophy seems much closer to the call of God on our lives.
The life of faith we are on is not intended to be an individual journey. Make no mistake, we are on this expedition of faith together. We are called to be in relationship with God, but also with each other. Together we are the family of God and the body of Christ. As one body, connected to each other, none of us can get anywhere alone.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Holy God, help us to lift up instead of tear down. Help us to think in terms of ‘us’ and not of ‘me’. Lead us to go far in this life of faith. Together. Amen.