I remember a winter day in the fifth grade. We were playing kickball in the warmth of the school gym. If you kicked the ball above a certain line on the back wall it was counted a home run. When I was up to kick I booted it hard over the class and into the home run zone. As I ran around the bases I held my hand above my head with my index finger raised to say, “I’m number 1.”
I remember that victory lap, now over 30 years later, not as a triumph of my early years but as an example of the need to place myself first. I thought my kickball exploits put me at the top of some elementary school heap, and I held my finger up to say, “I’m in first.” That’s where most of us want to be: first. First in line, first in the race, first in vote tallies, first in the eyes of our peers--it’s what we desire. And that doesn’t stop once we get out of grade school. When I lived in Montana I knew one of the surgeons at the local hospital, and he told me about visiting the expensive country club near town. “You don’t want to go there,” he said. “Everybody there is looking over their shoulders, wondering who has more money than the other.” A week or two ago I mentioned in a sermon scanning the wedding and engagement announcements in my hometown paper, where a listing of accomplishments went with the couple's announcement. “How do I measure up?” I’d ask myself as I saw the accomplishments of those with whom I went to school. What I really was asking myself was, “Who is first?” Jesus own disciples had arguments about who was the number one guy among them, which tells us this is a problem even among Christians from the beginning.
Benedict doesn’t have any room for this type of positioning. In chapter 63 of his Rule, Benedict allows for only one ranking in the monastery, and its based on when the monk enters the community. They’re not ranked on accomplishment or age, only by who has been there longer. Benedict even says, “someone who came to the monastery at the second hour of the day must recognize that he is junior to someone who came at the first hour.” All are equals in the community, and no one gets to raise his index finger to proclaim himself the first. Whenever there needs to be ordering among the monks, the only ordering they use is based on when they came there.
We all harbor an insecurity, that maybe we’re not as good, not as smart, not as good-looking as others. “Maybe I don’t deserve love” is what the fear tells us. I don’t know where that fear comes from, but most of us have some of it. We try to place ourselves first to hold back that fear, thinking maybe the awards and accolades will banish those fears. The fear is nonsense, though. As a Christian I know I have all the love I need, already. Already I’m a creation of God, loved and redeemed in Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Already, right now, I have enough. I don’t need to bother trying to place myself above another. Benedict was right to not allow any attempts to place oneself in first. When we’re all equally loved, no one needs to bother with who is first.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict