The Problem of Envy - And Jesus' Solution

(Homily for 29th Sunday, Year B)

According to Aristotle a power which distinguishes human beings is our ability to imitate.* By it, for example, we learn languages. Where I am in Peru children can speak Spanish and Aymara (a complex Indian language) without confusing the two. Our power of imitation not only enables us to learn languanges, but an entire culture which includes ways of eating, dressing, relaxing and relating to others.

In learning languages and cultures we put our power of imitation to good use. However, it can also be used very badly. For example, children see adults smoking and desire to do the same. On television they watch humorous characters talking with little respect - and they imitate them. Television reaches to remote corners of the world (like here in the Altiplano of Peru) with images of clothes styles, fancy cars, beautiful homes, etc. The people see it and want the same. The desire may not be negative in itself, but it can easily lead to what this Sunday's Gospel describes: envy.

James and John observed the way civil rulers governed and they too desired posts of authority. For them Jesus was a man of great expectations - he attracted huge crowds by his way of speaking and his healing powers. The two brothers wanted to secure positions for themselves when he made his move on Jerusalem. The other apostles got angry - not because they saw things more clearly, but because they too dreamed of civil power. In a word they fell victims to envy.

I had a terrible experience of envy when I was a young priest. One of my parishioners had everything which I felt would make me happy: a beautiful wife, some great kids, a lovely home. I especially envied his profession - it seemed more exciting than the humdrum work of the parish, particularly the endless meetings and public relations (often not responding to reality, but "perceptions" and gossip). One day he asked for an appointment. I really did not want to meet with him because I thought it would make me more sad, but I finally did. In twenty non-stop minutes he poured out his heart, how empty and miserable he felt. As he finished he said, "Father, I have to make a confession. I have always envied you!"

We seldom glimpse the suffering of the other person - nor do we often appreciate our unique blessings. Jesus chides the apostles for envying secular authorities - and each other. He offers another way. "Take up your cross and follow me." Embrace the apostolate with its humiliations and suffering - as well as great joys. In a word, imitate Jesus himself. By doing so we put our power of imitation to its greatest use.


*For this analysis of imitation (mimesis) and envy I am indebted to Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled. mimesis also may be translated as representation

From Archives (Homilies for 29th Sunday, Year B):

2012: St. Kateri, Pray For Us
2009: Whoever Wishes to be Great
2006: Vaulting Ambition
2003: Victims of Envy
2000: The Problem of Envy - And Jesus' Solution
Also: Serious Concerns (Terri Schiavo)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(September 2009)

Pictures from Peru

(October 2009)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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