25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
They are everywhere. In the office, there will surely be one who resents the promotion of an officemate. In school, there will surely be a student who feels cheated by the victory or excellence of another. In the factory, people will start a gossip about someone who seems to be enjoying life more than others. In the church, people will feel bad when the parish priest seems to favor a person or a group more. In the family, it happens that someone feels neglected because another member is enjoying the limelight.
Who am I describing here? The very people referred to in the first two readings of this Sunday – jealous and ambitious people. Jealousy here is not the possessive sentiment of lovers for each other, but really the sin called envy. The readings warn us against envy as a destructive spirit, as a spirit that kills the joy within the human heart and impels us to kill another’s joy, too.
The second reading is explicit: where there is envy/ jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and foul practice. The first reading describes how an envious person soon plots the downfall of good people around him. The gospel tells us how even the disciples are envious of positions of closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is envy? A quick look at our catechism defines it as “the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly.” At times, it leads to wishes of harm to a neighbor. And that is when it becomes a mortal sin. A person becomes sad that another is more popular, successful, accomplished, loved. He wishes to trade places with that person and to get his blessings. Unable to realize this, he becomes sad. Envious people are sad and insecure people.
St. Augustine calls envy “the diabolical sin,” because it gives birth to many other defects of character: hatred, detraction, calumny, joy at another’s misfortune and sadness at another’s blessings. I think that the one who suffers most from the effect of envy is really the envious person, even if he continues to deny that he is without peace.
Why is the Lord cautioning us against envy? Because it is very real in our lives. It is not limited to people I described earlier, nor confined to the villains of movies or soap operas. Envy is a capital sin, meaning, it is a big and present temptation in the heart of every person. Children and adults, the worldly and the religious are all vulnerable to envy. We will be lying if we deny that we do not feel even the slightest tinge of envy from time to time.
There is a way out. Because envy is rooted in pride, Jesus prescribes humility, “be the last of all and the servant of all.” Because envy operates through sadness, Jesus gives the example of a child, who is happy and trusting and confident about himself and in God’s eternal love. To be released from envy we must work hard at humility and openness to the love of God. We are also invited to be always thankful for the big or small blessings that come our way.
Jesus, give me the grace to recognize your love in my own self and in others. Amen.