On a high school youth retreat, I once heard a Methodist bishop tell the story of his own youthful endeavor to be accepted as part of an honor society.
There were only but so many slots each year and far more teens seeking acceptance.
The aspiring pastor worked very hard to put his application together, and he had every reason to believe that he would be selected for one of those coveted spots. But when the chosen few were announced, his name did not appear on the list.
After working through his disappointment, he turned angry at the apparent oversight to his qualifications. And then he began the comparisons:
Johnny had a 3.5 GPA; lower than his.
Suzie hadn’t been involved in as many activities.
And Daniel wasn’t nearly the model student that he was.
Surely, he should have surpassed at least one of these peers for the nomination. Convinced there had been a mistake, he paid a visit to the honor society advisor.
After listening intently, the advisor assured him that his hard work had not gone unnoticed. If numbers, school attendance and diversity of a resume were all that factored into the review committee’s decision, she explained, he absolutely would have been chosen. But there was more to it.
The honor society wasn’t just a club that awarded people for personal achievement. It was a leadership development program that selected students with notable successes and gave them opportunities to excel in ways they might not on their own.
“Sometimes, others are acknowledged because they need it more, not because they accomplished more,” the advisor explained, noting that the bishop as a young man had far surpassed his classmates without the support of the honor society.
In our first come, first serve, work-hard-to-get-more society, being turned down when we have achieved the most or behaved the best is difficult to understand. But the concept is the very essence of how Jesus chose to do business.
Consider the paralyzed man whose friends skirted the crowd and lowered him through the roof in hopes of Jesus’ healing blessing. There were many in front of him, and plenty who had traveled much further for the same. But Jesus stopped in the moment, acknowledged their faith and told the man to “get up and walk.”
Look also at the number of stories Jesus chooses to tell about the importance of searching for things that have been lost. Whether it is children, coins or even sheep, the emphasis is on the thing that is lost, not the flock that remains, how time spent elsewhere could earn another coin or whether the needs of the rest of the family trump those of the son who ran off.
We all deal with limited resources. There’s not enough time in the day. Our household budgets aren’t big enough for all the things we want and need. And there are never enough slots for all the people applying to be honored.
But just because there are limited resources doesn’t give us permission judge who is worthy and who is not based solely on earthly accomplishments. God created all of us as equals. No one starts out more deserving or important than another, and that is how he teaches us to care for our neighbors each day.
The ministry of Jesus is all about the present—who needed him, right now, in the most compelling ways. His example is an acknowledgement that all who crossed his path were valuable enough for his time. That doesn’t make the greatest achievers, the hardest workers and the people first in line, any less important. But it does place priority on those who needed him most desperately and would never have found the kingdom without his blessing.