A few times in my years as a priest I have been passed over in a search process. A few times I have been the one selected and others have been passed over. When Episcopal churches call priests, they start with a long list and whittle the list down to a few folks and then get more serious. From those few, one is selected to serve. Probably any one of the final few would do a good job but the search committee is looking for the one person they think will serve best. It’s humbling to be passed over. Why not me? I am well qualified. I could do the job. It’s even more humbling to be selected. Why me? I’m really no better than those other folks. What is it about me that you think makes me the one?
The first chapter of Acts tells the story of the apostles selecting someone to take Judas’ place among them as witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Peter seems to be chairing the meeting that is taking place and two men are put forward: Barsabbas and Matthias. The apostles pray and then they cast lots which seems akin both to a secret ballot and drawing straws. Matthias is selected and he becomes one of the twelve. Barsabbas, who is passed over, is never mentioned again, leaving us to wonder just what became of him.
Did Barsabbas pitch a fit? Did he start accusing Matthias of vote tampering? Was he a sore loser? Or did he continue to offer himself in service of the spreading Gospel of Christ? Was he relieved to not have the added burden of responsibility? Or was he hurt that he was not selected over his colleague? Experience suggests that he may have felt both relief and jealousy. And my hunch is that, no matter what Barsabbas was feeling, he went on serving the risen Christ. I just figure that anyone who was compassionate and generous enough to be considered in such a selection process was someone who would keep on serving selflessly even though he was the second choice. We might not remember who won the silver medal at the Olympics but we know they are tremendous athletes. The difference between gold and silver is usually negligible. Barsabbas got the silver medal and I’m guessing he kept on running the race as he had before.
Over the years I have watched people serve the Church and offer gifts in many different ways. Some are the kind who want to be more anonymous and don’t particularly want any special recognition. Others seem to wave a flag and blow a trumpet every time they do something just to make sure everyone knows how generous they are. All gifts are helpful but some givers can be pretty hard to take.
Jesus offers some teaching on giving. At one point, Jesus says, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing….” (Mark 6.3-5) He wants to encourage people giving to others, not to gain accolades but because it is good to give. Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:33 both quote Jesus as saying, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” While Jesus tells us that giving and serving is not meant to draw attention, he also suggests that giving and serving affect our hearts and change us.
Maybe we all start out giving and serving in order to get a little appreciation. We all like to hear someone thank us for what we have done for them and it irks us when our gifts seemingly go unnoticed. But giving and serving, over time, have a way of transforming us. Those who faithfully give and serve turn into less self-centered people.
Sometimes in life we are recognized for what we have done or are capable of doing. That always feels good to get that kind of affirmation. But it’s probably good for us to get passed over every once in a while, to not be thanked or appreciated, and to feel what is like to serve without reward. Parents of young children get weary of the various demands placed upon them and no little child ever says, “Hey, thanks Mom for changing my diaper and spooning food into my mouth. You’re the best.” But parents of young children know a value beyond recognition. So it is with serving Christ and our neighbor. Those times when the world treats us like Barsabbas may be special gifts to us. Being passed over may just help us see the true value of service.
Are you giving and serving and helping others just to get noticed and fill a hole inside yourself? The answer to that for all of us is “yes” at least some of the time. That’s okay. Keep serving and your heart will grow more generous. Be like Barsabbas. The faithfulness that grows in our heart from running the good race is so much better than any glory that may come our way. Thereby we grow more like Christ.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.