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What’s your claim to fame? Well, let go of it

Katharine Barrett | Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When did you last feel jealous of someone? She has cooler jeans than you; he has the newest laptop; her parents are paying for school while you have to earn a big chunk of your tuition; he got the highest grade on the test and you know you worked a whole lot harder. Sometimes envy creeps up on us before we even realize it; other times we’re painfully aware of its presence, like a slap in the face or a cold shower.

On the other hand, sometimes we’re the one who already has the best brand of jeans, the highest of the high-end laptops, the most money or the best grades. The awful thing is, even then we can still become jealous! It’s a slightly different breed of envy, the kind that wants to keep out all the interlopers and pretenders. For I certainly don’t want just anyone to have my excellent jeans, or get As on the tests like I can; I’d rather hang on to my particular claim to fame than have to share it with someone.

For any of us who’ve ever been jealous because we wanted what we don’t have, or because someone else seemed to be inching in on what we do have, I offer you (and me too, quite honestly), this Sunday’s gospel reading. Listen up when you go to Mass, because Jesus has something to say to us. Simply put, his message goes like this: Cut it out. Now.

Pardon the pun, because Mark’s gospel this Sunday features that advice of Jesus that surely we all found really creepy when we were kids: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off … And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off … and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…” A little background would help here; if you remember from last Sunday, Jesus has just encouraged the apostles to live as servants rather than seeking greatness, to welcome children and other vulnerable people in Christ’s name rather than writing them off as insignificant. No sooner has he finished than John begins to, well, whine a little bit. “Somebody was trying to heal in your name, Jesus, but we made him stop because he’s not one of us.” The apostles want to hang on to their special status as Jesus’ chosen followers. If this stranger could drive out a demon by invoking the name of Jesus, might that dilute the authority or the privilege of the apostles? We can almost imagine Jesus’ sigh of frustration as he responds, “Do not prevent him. No one who performs a mighty deed in my name … can at the same time speak ill of me.” Jesus wants to curb the natural tendencies of the apostles toward jealousy or fear, or the misguided belief that they’re a part of an exclusive 12-man club.

Maybe we are like the apostles – we already have a position of authority. We’re already recognized as someone with gifts to offer. Then our job is to encourage and to accept more graciously the gifts of others, even when they show up from unexpected sources.

Maybe we’re like the stranger in Mark’s gospel, just coming to realize what we have to offer to others in the name of Jesus. Then our job is to muster up the courage to do something new, to push ourselves out into uncharted waters and figure out just how much we can contribute.

Let’s be clear; Jesus doesn’t want us literally to cut off our own hands or feet or pluck out our eyes. But if you’ve ever been on crutches or had a broken arm you know how much you need to depend on the generosity of others, as uncomfortable as that may make you. Why not live all the time in that spirit of generosity rather than jealousy, of cooperation rather than competition?

If our lives are kind and our actions done in humility and love, everyone benefits, and we will each take a step closer, together, to the unique kind of greatness to which Jesus calls us.

This week’s Faith Point was written by Katharine Barrett, director of the Emmaus Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.