The Epistle of St. James is so clear, direct, and practical. Last week we heard: faith without works is dead.
This week we hear [James 3:16-4:3]: Beloved: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. . . . . Where do wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.
These tensions can be seen in the second grade student who does not want to wait his/her turn. It is visible in the teenager who thinks the teacher is showing favoritism to an adversary in the classroom. It takes form when it is felt that someone gets the promotion that was rightfully ours. It is known in the Church organization when the president gives a plaque to someone who seems to get the credit all the time …. when others are actually doing the work.
Jealousy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and so much more unplesantry. James is not condemning ambition — ambition is what gets things moving, ambition is what makes life better ….. it is selfish ambition that is the problem …. doing something, achieving something — for self promotion, for self gain.
The historian Philo says, “For all the tragedies of war have flowed from one source — desire either for money or power or pleasure. Over all these things the human race goes mad.” In other words — we want something we do not have and we are willing to destroy to get it.
We see this desire, this want even in the disciples of Jesus [Mark 9:30-37] — who were arguing “on the way” — arguing about what? Arguing about who was the greatest? Come, on! Even the disciples of Jesus — yep, even the disciples of Jesus. This comes right after Jesus has been teaching about being handed over and put to death. Like the Scripture said, “they did not understand the saying.” Evidently, the disciples were more of visual learners, so Jesus puts a child in front of them — literally — and says, whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.
*** Image what we could accomplish if we did not worry about who got the credit! **** Jesus tries to teach that the greatest will be the one who serves … honestly and sincerely for the good of the other.
In 1972 [30 years ago!] the Catholic Bishops of the US released their statement Justice in the World. In that document they wrote: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
And so, just maybe I — you — we — us —- are in need of redemption from the oppressive desire to dominate, to be in control, to be the “greatest”. Being the greatest can be as simple as always having to have our way ….. being the greatest can also mean participating or helping only if there is “some” benefit for ourselves ….. no fun, no benefit, no gain ——well, I am not interested, then. Life is A LOT MORE THAN WONDERING if “I” am better off than I was four years ago …..are we better off? is the world better off?
Just maybe the meek will inherit the earth — after the strong and aggressive have blown each other to smithereens. As we get a little older, we realize the more we have, the more we have to protect — the more we have, the more we have to dust.
We continue to sit in horror as we watch the strife in the Middle East. We wonder if all we have done — the good we have tried to do — is going up in flames — and without appreciation. But, the reaction of others should only make us wary and wise — it should never keep us from doing the good WE CAN DO.
Mother Theresa said: “I believe in that great love, that comes, or should come, from our heart, should start at home: with my family, my neighbors across the street, those right next door. And, this love should then reach everyone.”
I am jealous of someone? Do I envy what others have? Am I guilty of injuring the good name of someone? Am I grateful for what I have or do I focus on what I do not have? How do I deal with the feeling that I am being taken advantage of? How strong am I in protecting the rights of the “weak”? Do I take advantage of those who do not “know better”?
Turning James’ thought around: if good works reflect true faith —- then what do “evil deeds” reflect?