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September 23, 2018 - "Lord, Save Me from Me!"

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Friday morning, just as I was looking for a start to this homily, a mother of a young man who plays for the Carroll High School Patriots sent me an e-mail saying, “We need a Patriot win against CJ Eagles tonight. Say a little prayer!” I replied, “For you I will pray for the Patriots, but for Fr. Bob Jones I will pray for the Eagles.” This way no matter who wins, I can say God heard my prayer. As it turns out the Eagles won! Here is another story. Today, India and Pakistan are playing a very crucial cricket match for the Asia cup. Of course, Jesus is on India’s side, right? How could he not? These are very naïve, harmless examples. However, apply the same rivalry to a job situation, to how the inheritance is shared, to sibling rivalry, to race relations, to the upcoming elections, to international politics; suddenly we have the perfect recipe for serious conflict and war. 

Over the last three weeks, I have been focusing my reflection on the letter of James. I am continuing with that trend. In today’s reading, James asks this question, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? James’ may have been referring some event that was tearing the community apart. James insights are helpful for us. And that’s the focus of my homily.  

1.   Envy – A Deadly Sin. James reflects on conflicts from the perspective of envy. The connection between envy and wars was evident even in the secular writing of James’ times. According to him, wars and battles are the inevitable outcome of envy. James’ obvious reference is the book of Genesis, where Cain murdered Abel out of envy. This is also the tone of today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, where wicked people plan the murder of the righteous person (Wis 2:12, 17-20). In the gospel reading, isn’t envy that made the disciples discuss the question, “Who is the greatest?” The lesson that James draws is very clear – one person or a few people’s envy destroys relationships and communities. So he says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (James 3: 16). Jesus antidote to the vice of envy is, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:36).  

2. Religious Envy. Second, James was concerned about another phenomenon in his community – that envy had affected religion and piety. Even their prayer life was infected by envy. Hence, he says, “You ask and you do not receive because you ask wickedly in order to spend it on your passions” (4:3). Today’s gospel reading connects very well here. Whereas Jesus was talking about the ultimate self-sacrifice, the disciples were discussing who among them was the greatest (Mk 9:34). What was their motivation for following Jesus? If being the greatest was their primary concern, then the disciples were following the wrong person. It would be good to examine our own prayer life. What is our motivation for prayer? Are any of our spiritual exercises motivated by selfish needs?  

3. God Blessed All. Thirdly, James was reflecting on envy from the perspective of Hellenistic society where everything was in limited supply. People, in those days, used prayers in order to attain what they envied in others. It was as if they were asking God to take from others what they had and give it to them. They forgot that they were supposed to function within God’s dispensation where God bestows gifts freely and in abundance. There is an unlimited supply of God’s graces. We are all blessed! May be, we are blessed in different ways, but we are all blessed by God’s graces.  

After I reflected on today’s scripture reading, I had one prayer on my lips: “Lord, save me…, from me!” May be this can be each one of our prayer: “Lord, save me from me!” 

- Fr. Satish Joseph