Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: From Jealousy to Wisdom
Do you remember reading Shakespeare’s play Othello? For those of you who may not be that up on your Shakespeare, Othello is the story about a Moor, an African sailor, who ascended to the rank of admiral. Othello then married a beautiful young girl named Desdamona. At the beginning of the play, they are happy and devoted to each other. Life should have continued that way, but then the wicked Iago enters. Iago is jealous of Othello’s success and upset that he had been passed over for a promotion that was given to a young man named Cassio. He plots to destroy Othello by using Othello against himself. He convinces Othello that Desdamona is not being faithful to him and that Casio was the other man. Ultimately this results in Casio’s, Desdamona’s and Othello’s deaths. Yes, this is just a play, but Shakespeare captures some of the most destructive human faults: jealousy and selfish ambition.
I’m sure that many of us have experienced people behaving badly, trying to destroy others out of jealousy or for their own self promotion.
Today’s readings confront these human maladies. The first reading presents wicked men plotting the destruction of the Just One. They can’t stand the fact that he is so close to God. They are jealous, just like Cain was jealous of his brother Abel’s relationship with God. “He’s obnoxious to us,” the villains from the Book of Wisdom claim, “Lets humiliate him, torture him, and condemn him to a shameful death.” This is almost a blow by blow description of what would happen to Jesus. It is also a description of the motivation of those who sought his death. The Pharisees, Scribes and leaders of the Temple could not bear the fact that Jesus radiated the Presence of God in the world. Instead of listening to Him, they decided to destroy Him, or, at least, destroy His physical life.
The Letter of James in today’s second reading begins with:
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
There are so many problems that come from jealousy and selfish ambition. At work, people place a few negative thoughts into the ear of a boss in order to hamper a fellow employee’s promotion and open up a position for themselves. In the schools, particularly the High Schools, people routine destroy other’s reputation so they can look better before their peers: “Well, she might seem to be all that holy, but let me tell you what she is really like.” or “He might appear to be this great moral guy, but this is what he’s done.” And the hurt begins. Good people suffer.
Jealousy is evident in the workplace, schools, homes and even the Church. Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t get the message. In today’s Gospel the Twelve are arguing over who was the most important among them. What was with these guys, anyway? They were following someone who gave up everything to care for others and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He continually emptied himself out for others, and all they are concerned with is their positions in the heavenly kingdom. “Stop it,” the Lord says to the Twelve. The first should be last and a servant. He would wash their feet at the Last Supper and then tell them to do this for others.
Jesus uses a child to make his point. Taking care of a child is too low a task for the high and mighty. People who think they are so important have better things to do than wipe noses, tell bedtime stories and change diapers. The disciples of the Lord are never to see themselves as high and mighty. They, we, are to be servants to all, particularly to those who are most vulnerable.
So, there are two things that we are confronted with today: dealing with other people’s jealousy, and our own over inflated view of ourselves.
Actually we can’t do anything about other people’s jealousy except ignore it. We need to be kind to those who are so vicious that they want to destroy us. The most important thing is that we don’t stop doing our best out of concern for what others are thinking. We have to do our best but in a way that does not promote ourselves to others. Let me tell you about Tom McGahee. I was in the seminary with Tom. He is now Fr. Thomas McGahee. Tom is a super genius. How intelligent is he? When we were in the seminary the IQ people used to send him their tests and then correct the tests when Tom’s answers didn’t coincide with theirs. People from all over the world used to contact him to solve complex problems. And, yet, Tom never flaunted his intelligence. If one of us asked him to explain something to us, he would drop everything to explain it as simply as possible without ever making us feel dumb. Tom was humble. We also need to be humble. At the same time we need to develop the talents God gives us. If people are jealous, well, so be it. The talent comes from God, not from us. We don’t have a right to let our talents shrivel to nothing. Whatever God gives us; He gives us for others.
And we have to fight against an over inflated view of ourselves. A wag once said, “Last year I was conceited, but this year I’m perfect.” None of us are as good as we sometimes think we are or as bad as we sometimes think we are. We have to get rid of our own conceit and be concerned not with ourselves but with serving others.
Being our best selves, the best versions of ourselves, results in the Wisdom that James speaks about in the second part of the reading:
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
People can be hard. People can be hurtful. People can be jealous. But we do not have to be part of the self centered society of evil. We can change society. We can change society by being kind and understanding, caring and forgiving. We can change society by being the people we were created to be: People of God.