Jealousy and Selfish Ambition
Today’s readings address two areas of human limitation that destroy relationships among people in every aspect of our society: the home, the nation and the Church. These two very human foibles are jealousy and selfish ambition.
In today’s second reading from the Letter of James we heard: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exists there is disorder and every foul practice.
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom illustrates the extremes that jealousy can lead to. It is a prophetic. It presents the mind set of those people who would want Jesus dead. The scene is the same. Leaders of the people can no longer stand the presence of a just man. “He is obnoxious to us,” they complain, “because he opposes the things that we do, he says that we aren’t faithful to our training and that we are not people of the Law.” They are jealous of the following that the just man has. He is swaying people who would not listen to them. So they hand him over to torturers. The Temple priests, the Sadducees and Pharisees would do the same thing to Jesus for the same reasons. St. James adds that so often wars are started out of jealousy, as people covet what they do not possess.
The same thing can happen in a family, in our nation or even in our Church. A member of the family who is intent on living the faith might be despised by someone else who secretly wishes that his or her faith was as strong. How many times people will mock the piety and determination of others. In our nation, the media often mocks those who are seeking to live properly. It glories in magnifying the foibles of just people.
Instead of joining them in virtue, it would rather tear them down and equate the lives of good people with those of immoral people. Sadly, the same thing happens in the Church. After all, the Church is made of human beings. People within parishes, other priests and religious, even those in diocesan positions have been known to attack those whose virtue is perceived by others as greater than theirs. Jealousy destroys community.
So does selfish ambition. It is important that we are determined to make the best of our lives as we can, but not out of selfishness. We should be the best people we can be so that the Kingdom of God can radiate through us and grow. You all have ambition for your families to be good Christian families whose children become good Christian leaders themselves. You want you kids to get good jobs, etc, and that is great. But you would be so wrong if your desires to further your life would come in conflict with the rightful needs of those in your family. Once a lady told me that she had to divorce her husband because her career in the movies was advancing. She would have to move to California, something her husband was willing to do, but he was just not the right type of a mate to give her rising status credibility. True story. She needed a trophy husband. She was willing to sacrifice her marriage and her children’s happiness for her own selfish ambition. I think she wanted me to agree with her. Obviously, I didn’t.
So many of our workplaces are battlegrounds where people look to advance by tearing others down. In many ways it is a real challenge to be a Christian in the workplace. This challenge means avoiding self-promotion by noting the failings of others, real or contrived. It means not returning insult and pettiness when we have been hurt by others. It means not using others for our own selfish gain.
Jesus could smell this coming into the Church and put a stop to it immediately. He had just instructed his disciples on his coming passion, but they didn’t hear it. Instead they were busy discussing their great positions in the Kingdom of God. Jesus nipped this one right in the bud. When he called a child to them and told them that their position in the Church should be like that of a little child, he was knocking them down from what they perceived as the top rung to the very bottom of the ladder. A child had no standing in Jesus’ world. That culture did not revolve around children as our culture does. Children were ignored. Jesus tells his disciples that their ambition should be to be as insignificant as a child of their day. More than this, he tells them that one of the greatest things that they can do is to care for a child.
I often mention this to parents during the celebration of the baptism of a baby. I tell them that when they were teenagers they might have had wonderful plans for their future. Perhaps they wanted to be successful in business, law or medicine. But, I tell them, there is nothing that they can do which would be greater than being a Christian parent, a mother or father that allows a child to reflect the presence of the Lord that child was created to bring into the world.
I know many of you who spent long years studying to be engineers, and doctors and lawyers, etc, and who now use your education to change diapers, do first grade arithmetic, etc. You are doing something far greater than you can imagine. You are being a good parent and forming a child into a Christian. You have bumps in the road. You may have to use more psychology than a clinical psychologist to convince your teenage daughter that she is lovable. At times, when the kids are particularly trying, you may wonder if the struggle is worth it. Today’s Gospel tells you that it is infinitely worth it. By caring for the presence of Christ in the child, you, we are caring for Christ.
Jealousy and selfish ambition are part of the human makeup that we continually fight so that we can be Christians. We have a guide to help us avoid these limitations. The guide is Jesus Christ. He was not jealous of John the Baptist whose living of the faith was far more ascetic than Christ’s. He did not seek any throne, although it was continually offered to him by the people--as well as by the devil. He was not arrogant. He wanted nothing more than to care for the least of his Father’s people. He identified with the poor and the sick. And he identified with children.
We can be like him. We can live for others, especially those in our families. We pray today for the courage to make the cultivation of Jesus’ presence in others the priority of our lives.