Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30
“Jealousy makes you nasty” is a phrase I remember from childhood–an accusation often sung in a taunting and shaming manner. Now whereas the childhood situations that provoked this taunt may have been trivial and inconsequential, jealousy in adults can be anything but inconsequential. We heard a powerful example of this in our first reading with Paul and Barnabas winning over the hearts of many so that almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord, and some Jews upon seeing the crowd were filled with jealousy and, with violent abuse, contradicted what Paul said. We have a similar and equally distressing response to Peter’s cure of the sick and those possessed by unclean spirits. Instead of rejoicing in these cures we are told that the high priest rose up with all his companions and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the apostles and put them in the public jail.
Now although the Book of Deuteronomy describes God as a consuming fire, and a jealous God and even though spiritual writers speak of holy envy, jealousy is typically one consequence of our fallen human condition and our estrangement from both God and self. And it is this latter alienation from ourselves that fuels jealousy and its frequently negative impact on our lives and those of others. One dictionary definition of jealousy describes it as being envious or resentful of the good fortune or achievements and talents of others. This alienation from our true selves and our disconnection from the essential core of our identity means that instead of being able to rejoice in another’s good fortune, achievements and talents, we feel resentful and our sense of self worth seems undermined.
These reactions that we’ve all probably experienced at some time are partially the fruit of growing up in a society and culture that unduly focuses on the outer person to the neglect of the inner person. Personal self-worth and value in the eyes of others are all too often gauged by relatively superficial criteria such as wealth, success, popularity, good looks or power. Accordingly, the very young (including the unborn) and the very old, who often lack these qualities, are dispensable and frequently marginalized. This tendency to focus on the external and superficial while ignoring the inner, deeper reality of each person, is somewhat like judging a gift by its wrapping without ever opening it to discover its contents.
From our Christian perspective every wrapped gift (to continue the analogy)–regardless of how beautiful or plain the wrapping may be–contains a precious diamond, that unique and unrepeatable person that God created in his own image and likeness. It is only by tearing through the outer wrapping in the arduous and often painful inner journey to self-knowledge and then opening our hearts to saving grace’s sanctifying and transformative action that we come to discover this diamond within. Jealousy is thus a sure sign that we have either not initiated this inner journey or that it remains incomplete. In contrast, the absence of jealousy is the mark of the truly humble person who is no longer troubled by one whose outer wrappings may be more beautiful, elegant, expensive or noble. The truly humble person beholds the sparkling diamond within and is all too aware that with advancing years the outer wrappings steadily spoil and fade and with death are discarded entirely.
And so although we don’t always like to admit that we experience jealousy, perhaps we might take time today to assess the degree to which we still do and utilize jealousy’s presence in monitoring our progress towards finally coming home to ourselves in Christ who dwells in the very center of our being. For Christ is that sparkling gem of which each one of us (as redeemed and sanctified members of his body) is a tiny but exquisite facet giving glory through Christ to our Eternal Father.