I love the Diane Rhem show on NPR and today she featured an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis, actress and now author of children's books. Curtis was promoting her newest work, Is There Really a Human Race ,which explores issues of competition and the global culture. Curtis really got worked up talking about how crazy we are about competition. Elections now are treated like football games between hated rivals, the most-watched programs on TV all feature a weekly "loser" who gets kicked off the show, and have you heard those stories of parents having fist fights at little league games?
Many years ago I concluded that competition just did not fit into my understanding of Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God so I phased out competitive activities in my youth group programs. Yes, I kept in some of the silly games, but we played for the sake of fun and we didn't bother to keep score. Of course, some suggested I was being ridiculous since our youth live in the "real world" which is supposedly based in competition. Actually, for most of us cooperation is the main skill needed in our jobs. But if competition is what makes the world go 'round, I see part of my role as pastor is to help youth catch a glimpse of the world not as it is, but as it could be--a world where love and community are the focus rather than self-sufficiency, independence, and competition. (I suppose it's a good thing I don't work at a church with a youth basketball league!)
Are there winners and losers in the Kingdom of God? Not in my reading of the synoptic gospels (though, admittedly John seems to take a different approach). Now, I know someone could proof-text to me all sorts of scripture to show that some people aren't going to make it into the Kingdom. But, taken as a whole, the teachings of Jesus depicted in the New Testament speak clearly (to me, anyway) that we are all God's beloved, we all live within God, and our task is to open our eyes and realize this amazing truth. The Gospel of Thomas says it nicely: the Kingdom of the Father is already spread out on the earth, and people aren't aware of it.
And yet some do know the truth that Luke shares: The Kingdom is within you.