25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Envy and jealousy play a prominent role in world literature. They are foremost in the movies and TV series we watch. In subtle ways, they are used by consumerism. Somebody said that one of the most effective tools for advertisers in our culture is to foster envy and jealous among us. After all, if they can cause us to recklessly desire the possessions of another, they can drive us to great lengths to acquire them for ourselves.
The main difference between the two, according to Google, is that envy is the emotion of coveting what someone else has; while jealousy is emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else. Actually, I do not want to dwell much on the technical difference between the two. Suffice to say that envy and jealousy are closely related.
St. Thomas Aquinas has this simpler definition: “Envy is an irrational anger at the success of others.” One writer describes envy this way: “When a friend of mine succeeds something in me dies.”
A close relative of envy is ambition. If envy is an irrational anger at the success of others, one way of dealing with that is by pulling people down, and another way is by pulling relentlessly yourself up. Ambition makes you try hard to get ahead of others. You are always competing fiercely and you are persistently striving to succeed in order to match or top the success of others.
All this is spelled out by St. James in today’s second reading. He says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and foul practice.” Notice how he links jealousy and selfish ambition. James adds, “Where do wars and where do conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make within your members? This is a timely message to us as individuals and as a community.
In one of his homilies, Pope Francis said envy and jealousy are the gateways to resentment and bitterness, to gossip and character assassination that sow division with the Christian community. Envy and jealousy open the door to evil. They are weapons of the devil in destroying the family, the community, the Church.
When envy or jealousy takes over our spiritual life, disorder and disintegration happen in us. When there is disorder and disintegration inside of me, when I fall apart spiritually and psychologically, I tend to sow disorder and disintegration outside. St. James reminds us that our selfish ambitions or inner cravings lead us to vile behavior. Our inability to obtain what we desire leads us to violent action.
The life of Jesus is about self-emptying love. Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, continues to talk about his identity and mission: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” It is this gift of self that we are called to live.
This is something the disciples have not understood. Right after Jesus talking of his passion and death, they argue who is the greatest among them. Imagine the great embarrassment of the disciples upon hearing Jesus saying: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” William Barclay has this striking commentary: “It was not that Jesus abolished ambition. Rather, he recreated and sublimated ambition.” “For the ambition to rule, he substituted the ambition to serve.” “For the ambition to have things done for us, he substituted the ambition to do things for others.” For Jesus, greatness comes from service, and service comes from humility.
The Lord is reminding us that his mission is our mission too. If we are to follow Jesus, we must take the way of self-giving, self-emptying love for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Let us end with a prayer: Lord Jesus, You showed us the way to greatness through Your footsteps of humble service and Your self-giving love on the cross. Give us the grace we need to be able to follow You by giving ourselves to others. Help us as we strive to love and serve our neighbor to the best of our ability. Amen.