The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B.
Jealousy is an interesting thing. Anyone here ever been jealous of someone or something? Felt that burning inside you? Anyone ever do something reckless because of it…? Maybe I should stop asking questions.
To me, jealousy is an interesting thing because at the heart of every jealous person, every jealous act, is not over-active passion, but actually fear. You see, when most people say that they’re jealous what they mean is that someone else has something that they really want. “Ooo, you have the new iPhone… you’ve got tickets to the concert… I’m so jealous!” And while we all know what we mean when we say something like this, what we’re actually saying is that we’re envious, that there is something that someone else has that we really want. Jealousy, technically speaking, is somewhat the opposite: to be jealous is to already have something, but feel threatened that someone will take it, to be afraid to lose it. At the heart of the matter is not coveting, not immense desire or passion for something more… it’s fear of losing what we already have.
We see this sometimes in children, don’t we, in our sort of primal emotions? When one sibling gets attention from mom or dad, gets a compliment or gift, they throw a fit, not necessarily because they’re desperate for attention, not because they actually want that gift, but because there is something inside them that says that mom or dad doesn’t love them as much. “That’s not so special. Look what I’m doing!” If their brother or sister gets affection, they think, they’ll be left behind and not loved. They become jealous.
Of course, we can see this sometimes in adults, too. When a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife spends times with their friends, maybe someone of the opposite sex, we see people getting very upset, very defensive. “No, you can’t spend time with that person,” some will even say. Why do they do this? More times than not it is not envy, it’s not a passionate feeling of wanting to spend more time with the other, it’s driven by a fear a losing the person, that by them sharing their love with another person, there won’t be enough love for them. They become jealous.
This is precisely what we see in our first reading and our Gospel today. Fear has overcome our biblical figures. In the first reading, those who were left back at the camp when God blessed the prophets are still able to prophesy. They speak for God and they speak with authority, two very good things. Things that the whole community should be proud of. Moses even says that he wishes the whole nation were given the gift of prophecy, that every single person spoke for God. But the others don’t feel this way. They see it as a threat. For them, if others can prophesy, then what they do will not be special, it won’t be unique. If others are able to do what they can do, then they won’t be as important. They become jealous.
Fast forward a thousand years and we see the same situation playing out once again in our Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are passing along, they find that there are people that “don’t go with us,” they say, that are prophesying in Jesus’ name, performing miracles and speaking for God. Surprise surprise, the disciples don’t like this. “They’re not one of us. We have to put a stop to this,” they say. But Jesus is not threatened, he’s not afraid: “No one can perform mighty deeds apart from me,” he says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
And it is with those words that we see how irrational jealousy is. We see how selfish, how narrow minded it is at its core.
When we’re jealous, we convince ourselves that the success of another is somehow to our detriment. We convince ourselves that someone else getting something good, receiving acclaim, or being loved by others means that we somehow are not good, that we can’t receive acclaim, that we are less loved. If our parents love our brother or sister, it means they can’t love us as well; that if our significant other spends time with someone else, it means that we are less special; that if someone else does something good, our life is going to get worse; and that if God is glorified through another, God can’t be glorified in us.
And we see it all around us, don’t we? We fear that if another religion is given praise, that something is found to be true in it, it somehow undermines Christianity, and so we try to put them down. We fear that if our political adversaries, those people from the other party, do something good then our side will be hurt, and so we try to put them down.
But how absolutely irrational each of these things are! Out of our fear (and it is most certainly fear!) we convince ourselves that there is only so much goodness to go around and so we must be in competition with everyone else. Out of our fear, we forget that all of us are on the same team, that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are to be seeking truth and building up the kingdom together, and when something good happens to or through another, when God is glorified through another, all of us are glorified!
Being jealous, as our biblical characters are today, being led by fear, is completely irrational because another person’s gain is not our loss if we’re in this together.
But ultimately, I think there’s something more to this, something even more contrary to what it means to be Christian. If jealousy is a result of fear, a fear of losing something, why would we as Christians every have something to be jealous of? What could we possibly fear losing? As followers of Christ, we are a people who claims to give up all that we have, willingly—to leave everything behind, die to ourselves, and follow Christ from death to life. We are a people that follows a man who lost everything—his reputation, dignity, authority to teach, and even his life—and who calls us to do the same for his sake. The central teaching of our faith is that in losing all that we have, including our lives, we actually gain more than we can ever imagine. The very essence of Christianity is about giving up, about losing what we we have.
And so I ask again: what could there ever be to make us jealous? There is no reason to fear losing what we have, of letting fear weigh us down or cause us to do something reckless. These are the worries of the world, the worries of those who want to hold on to what they have rather than give it up to follow Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly who he says he is, then losing everything we have is actually the best thing that could ever happen to us.
Do not fear what others may take away from you. Focus on what Christ gives you in return for not caring when it’s gone.