What’s the first negative human emotion mentioned in the Bible that’s directed at another human? I don’t think it’s related to Adam and Eve; although they disobeyed God, they didn’t seem to be motivated by anything other than poor judgment (or, at the very least, Sacred Scripture doesn’t offer much specific insight into the emotions driving their actions). No, the first negative emotion I’m comfortable labeling is jealousy, in the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4:4-7: “The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not. Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen. So the LORD said to Cain: ‘Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.'”
In other words, the first emotion in the Bible is jealousy of God favoring someone else instead of you.
Why did this kind of jealousy come to mind as I reflected on today’s readings? Well, the first reading is about Eli guiding Samuel to hearing and understanding the Lord’s call. I’ve written in the past about how Eli’s story speaks to me, by noting that your purpose might be to help others find their way to God. But today I’ve looked at that same lesson from another point: How incredible is it that Eli doesn’t feel any jealousy?
One parable I’ve always struggled with is Christ’s teaching about the lost sheep — tangentially referred to in today’s “Allelluia” proclamation — which describes how Jesus will come and seek out one lost member of his flock rather than tend to the 99 who are still part of his fold. And I struggle with it because, really, what believer doesn’t want a personal encounter with Christ? To have him come to you directly, to provide one-on-one care? Why do 99 members of the flock not get that, but the errant one does?
In a similar vein, putting myself in the shoes of Eli, I imagine I would have to be very careful with my emotions when Samuel came to me for advise: “Hey, for some reason God has picked me to do awesome things! Isn’t that great? Can you help me out with that?” Where’s my vision from God?
Of course, such emotions are really lousy and pretty detrimental to having a life with the Lord. But it’s still a human emotion, one that’s best for me to acknowledge and work my way through. Look at today’s Gospel selection from Mark: “The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons . . .” It doesn’t say he cured all who were sick, so it’s quite possible some were left wondering why God didn’t choose to help them.
And I’m afraid I don’t have any one-size-fits-all answer for that. But I have some observations:
• If you’re looking for Jesus to save you, congratulations! He did . . . 2,000 years ago, with his death and resurrection.
• The story of the prodigal son addresses some of this concern, with the story of the son left behind, and the father’s words: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” Again, the offer of salvation is a tremendous one, and a life with the gifts of the Spirit can be tremendously rich.
• If someone seems to be blessed by God — and even if they claim to be so blessed — that doesn’t mean it’s so. Remember: God didn’t promise us material wealth, an easy life on Earth, or tangible prosperity. (Lots of obviously ungodly people are rich and using their wealth against the wishes of God.) Jesus was concerned with our eternal lives, and warned time and again that worldly belongings were quite possibly a detriment to salvation. So if you’re jealous about how a friend or associate seems to be doing better in money, wealth, or power, realize that there may now be two problems to pray about: your jealousy, and your friend’s salvation.
• For those in your life who do have more spiritual blessings than you, then consider how that gift radiates out from them to affect the larger world. There is no one in the cosmos with a greater understanding and appreciation of the “big picture” than God. (His plan of salvation was millennia in the making!) So if you see someone who seems favored by God in a way you don’t feel, try to see how that effort of God’s affects the larger picture. Understanding that we are all part of God’s flock, and can all play our own role in helping to bring the Kingdom to Earth, can do wonders to keep ill feelings at bay.
• Finally, if someone does seem to be blessed with more spiritual insight, or a truer connection to God, or other true gifts of the Spirit, and you feel that absence, consider yourself blessed! You have someone in your life who can serve as an inspiration and guide in expanding your life with Christ. I mean, if I were friends with Pope Francis, I hope I wouldn’t be kicking myself saying, “Darn; why can’t I be pope?”; I’d be honored to have a man of such powerful faith in my life!
If you still struggle with feelings of jealousy, remember that there’s always the Sacrament of Confession, and quite possibly other counseling possibilities offered by your parish.
Today’s readings offer so much to think about with our relationship with God. Whether you hear the call to follow some larger faith-filled pursuit like Samuel; or have the drive to nurture and support those who do feel such calls, like Eli; or are just desperately seeking Christ in your life, like the villagers who followed Jesus, know that you’re not alone . . . and may your journey bring you ever closer to God.