25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Envy)
Sometimes we hear the term Paschal Mystery, but may not even know what it means. The Paschal Mystery is a term used to describe something at the very heart of our Christian faith: Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. In fact, every time we celebrate the Mass we enter into those eternal events. We participate in the Paschal Mystery: the meal shared in the upper room of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion on Calvary, and the Glorified Jesus who emerges from the tomb hewn in rock.
In today’s Gospel, as they were walking through Galilee, Jesus began to tell them about it:“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
He was giving them a glimpse of the very thing on which they would eventually give their lives…..but they weren’t listening. They had been arguing about other stuff, which turned out to be about who among them was the greatest. I can imagine Jesus’ exasperation, thinking, You aren’t getting it. I’m calling you to just the opposite of that way of understanding. Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said up to this point?
Their problem is the same problem that we, the disciples of today, fall into. At the heart of an argument about who is the greatest—or as we might more commonly experience it, which is to compare ourselves to others—is envy, one of the 7 Capital (or Deadly) Sins, along with pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. I’ve heard it described that these are perhaps more properly understood as attitudes in the heart that are not yet sin in action. Everyone of them is a form of idolatry. Pride is idolatry of self; gluttony is of food or drink; sloth is of comfort; and so on.
Envy is idolatry of status or possessions. Bertrand Russell posed that envy was one of the primary causes of unhappiness, often leading us to wish misfortune on others (Metaphysics of Morals). Consider Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, or the story of King David, who after having acted out in adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. David’s spiritual advisor, Nathan, laid it out for him, speaking on behalf of God: I gave you everything. I made you king, rescued you from your enemies, gave you a home and wives, and still more. Why have you taken what did not belong to you? (2 Samuel, chapters 11-12).
I talk with enough people to know it’s a common problem. We become preoccupied with other people’s lives (they’re more popular, they get more attention and accolades); their God-given attributes (they’re attractive or highly skilled); their state of life (they’ve got a normal family, they’ve got it easy); their possessions (their car has more bells and whistles than mine, they’ve got the newer iPhone, while my parents have cursed me with the old one). Aristotle defined envy as pain we experience caused by the good fortune of others. We fixate on it all and it makes us increasingly discontent, even to the extent that we find satisfaction in whatever way those of whom we are envious suffer losses.
It all comes from a lie, telling us that our identity—how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us—is wrapped up in all those extrinsic realities: our stuff, the accolades, those we’re associated with, our talents and skills. The lie also tells us that God isn’t enough, that He hasn’t given us enough, and that He doesn’t really love us enough. I need all those other things to feel complete. And from all this—this envy—we lose sight of our many causes for gratitude, our many blessings, His promises.
And like the disciples on the way, sidetracked with comparing and unable to hear Jesus telling them about the Paschal Mystery, it’s likely that our preoccupations keep us from hearing it, considering its meaning, and desiring to experience it—while it’s at the very center of who we are as Christians.
Simplicity of life and gratitude (gratitude for who God has made me to be, for what I have, and my life’s circumstances) are the keys to pushing away from the false god that is envy. You might say, “Yeah that would be fine, if my circumstances didn’t suck”, but I’ve known too many people who, objectively speaking, live very hard lives and even suffer, yet live in gratitude and joy. We can always find someone who has it better and others who have it worse. The comparing doesn’t help.
I believe the more we strive for simplicity and a grateful heart, the more we will be able to hear and to get the heart of what our faith is about, and the more we’ll see ourselves as God sees us. If you’re like me, steps toward simplicity of life and a prayerful focus on gratitude might be what leads to more authentic discipleship, living in the Paschal Mystery—Jesus’ suffering, death, and his glorious resurrection.