Sunday Sermon for September 20, 2015, the Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time, year B
Readings: Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37
In the second reading today St. James tells us that where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. He goes on to ask where all of the conflicts among us come from and tells us that it is from our passions. Just think abut all of the atrocities that have taken place over the centuries; most of these have arisen from narcissistic individuals who manage to get themselves into leadership positions and then unleash their selfishness on others.
Many of us may not have to deal directly with people who are narcissistic, although that is becoming a bigger problem these days, but we all have to deal with the jealousy and ambition within our own selves as well as in those around us. Often times these things lead to a lot of pettiness which, in turn, fuels frustrations and divisions.
Both jealousy and ambition arise from the pride within a person. Pride is just another name for selfishness which causes us to be oblivious to the rights or needs of others because we are interested only in our own desires. We see this in an extreme form in the Gospel where our Lord tells His Apostles of His impending death. They did not understand, nor did they want to deal with the discomfort of the situation, so they ignored Jesus and His needs in order to argue among themselves about which one of them was the greatest.
While it may be true that most of us do not engage directly in arguments with others regarding our own superiority in whatever area may be being addressed, I think that many people deal with this in their own minds. How often we like to think that we could have done a better job at something. How often we judge another negatively simply because we do not want to admit that they did something better than we would be able to do.
Certainly, there are many areas where we know we do not excel; in these areas we can even marvel at what someone else is able to accomplish. It is in the areas where we have some expertise that we usually run into this problem. Rather than rejoicing in the gifts God has given to another, we sometimes hold others in contempt because we cannot accept that they might be better at something than we are. I recall reading about a man who had just finished his doctoral dissertation. He drove to a store and left the manuscript in the car; while he was in the store a classmate stole to manuscript, put his own name on it, and turned it in as if it were his own work. This is an extreme example of jealousy and ambition and most of us would probably not stoop that such a level.
However, there are times, in the lives of all of us, where we like to brag about some accomplishment of ours. This often arises when someone else it speaking of their own achievements or when we are looking at the work of another person. Again, rather than acknowledging the good that another has done, we like to use the situation as a forum to launch into a story about something we have done. Regardless of whether it stays in the mind or comes out of the mouth, it remains the same problem.
When His Apostles gave into their pride and began placing themselves above the others, Jesus called them to Himself and taught them how to overcome this weakness. He told them that the one who wishes to be first must be last and make himself the servant of all. Of course, this is just the opposite of the way most of us think. But we have to recall that our Lord, Who acknowledged that it was correct to call Him teacher and Lord, then washed the feet of His Apostles. This was to serve as an example to them of what their dispositions are to be.
What our Lord did for His Apostles in order to teach them a practical lesson, He then put into practice as a perfect act of charity and humility when, the very next day, He died for them. We hear in the first reading the attitude of those who put Him to death, a disposition which was simply a flowering of the jealousy and ambition of these people. They put Him to death because they found Him to be obnoxious to them. We contrast that with our Lord’s disposition and we see the two ends of the same spectrum.
If we are willing to be humble and charitable, to think of ourselves as last of all and to serve others, like Jesus on the Cross, true greatness will be ours.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.