He had chosen his part; it was not to be taken from him.


Community of hands outreaching

“It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”

Gospels mean many things to different people, but what I think Jesus means in this Sunday's Gospel () is that all of us – each and every one of us - have a part to play in building God’s Kingdom. And it is not to be taken from us. So, when I read this passage I think of something that happened to me in school that made me think more deeply about fairness and justice, about what it is to be a community, a society, a nation.

When I was at school they had a points system that was supposed reward good work and good behaviour. There was a competition every term between a red team and the blue team. The system was simple: if you did well in class, answered the questions, did your homework, then your team got points; if you misbehaved, then your team lost points. And whichever team got the most points over a term was given:

- a special day off school.
- a special meal
- a special day out at the cinema.

It was great; we loved it.

We loved the fact that our team had won and we were getting this special reward for good work and good behaviour.

So, in my last term my team - the blue team - was in the lead coming up to the end of term. With only one week ago, we were 20 points in the lead. That was only 20 points out of about a thousand. So it was a tiny lead, but it was a lead. If we could keep that lead to the end of the year, we would win.

Every day we counted up the points - still we were in the lead, but the other team was coming back at us. Every day the lead narrowed. Until the last day came, when we were still eight points in the lead. But, if we just kept going, then that eight points would be enough. What could go wrong now?

Well that is one of those questions that as soon as you ask it, you know the answer. There was still one thing that could go horribly wrong. Kwesi could go wrong.

Kwesi was a good lad, very big, very strong. He was incredibly good at football, incredibly good at rugby and also incredibly good at getting into trouble. Wherever you saw trouble, if you looked in the middle of it, you always found Kwesi.
He was goodhearted; he was no Wayne Rooney; but he just happened to be the kind of bloke that was always getting into trouble. Most of the time, he was a decent bloke and pleasant be with. But when he lost it, he lost it big style. He lost us more points during the year than the rest of the team put together. And so we knew that just one more big blow-up could cost us the whole competition. Kwesi could blow our eight point lead in one minute if he just lost it one more time. We would lose and the whole term’s effort would be for nothing. And no-one would be more hurt and humiliated by that than Kwesi himself.

So we met and we discussed it and we organised ourselves. We decided to double-team him. We would always keep two boys with him, wherever he went, to make sure that he didn’t get into trouble on his last day.

And Kwesi himself did his best. He knew his reputation; he knew his record. He really wanted the team to win and he really didn’t want it to be his fault if we lost. So he did his level best. He sat on his hands. He buttoned his lip. He sat so still in class you would have thought he was a statue. He did absolutely nothing to upset the teachers. You could see the strain on his face. You could see the sweat. You could see how much it was costing him. But he was doing his level best not to get in trouble for one day. I think it nearly killed him!

And all the time we had two boys with them just gently guiding him away from any sort of trouble, keeping his mind on the job. I think that staying out of trouble that day was probably the hardest thing Kwesi ever did in his entire life. But by the end of the day, he had done it. He went through the whole day and caused no trouble. And so at the end of the last class on the final day, the headmaster announced the end of the competition for the term. We, the blue team had won. We were going to get the prize. We were elated!

But then he also announced that there was one boy in the class whose record was so bad that he wasn’t going to share in the prize, even though he was on the winning team. His record was terrible. He had hardly gone a day in the whole term without causing trouble. He had cost his team so many points. That boy was, of course, Kwesi.

We, his friends, were furious. We knew that Kwesi had contributed very little to the team and we weren’t about to defend the indefensible. But we also knew how much he had tried - and especially how much it had cost him to hold it all together on the last day. For the rest of us, staying out of trouble was no big thing - we were not naturally the type. But Kwesi had put his little all into helping the team finally over the line. And now, though he had played his part in the win, he was not going to get the reward. And that just wasn’t fair!

And so we boycotted the prize. Not one of us went on the special trip. All of us turned up to the last day of school as normal in full uniform. If Kwesi couldn’t share in it, then none of us wanted the prize. Because he was part of the team and the team won or lost as a whole.

The headmaster was totally perplexed and totally powerless. He could hardly punish us for going to school rather than having the day off. And I am sure that he never understood. For him, the team system was just a way of conditioning good behaviour and the blue team was a bunch of individuals in which each person did what was best for himself. For us, the pupils, it was different - we were a team and for any of us to win, all of us had to win. We couldn’t win without Kwesi.

He had chosen his part; he had played it the best he could; it was not to be taken from him.

Let us pray that, as we pray in our creed, we may be a Church that is truly Catholic and truly Apostolic – one that is Universal, one that has many rooms and one which reaches out especially to those who seem to have only a little to contribute.

Let us stand and profess our faith in God’s plan for our future.

Paul O'Reilly SJ