The foot that wanted to be a hand: A homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Today’s second reading is from St. Paul’s first-century letter to the parishioners in the Church in Corinth. It is, in large part, about envy. The foot that wants to become a hand.  The hand that wants to be a foot. The ear that wants to be an eye.

Envy is a deadly sin, one of the seven. St. Thomas Aquinas noted that envy is the only sin that isn’t fun. But now all sin is deadly, inasmuch as it cripples and even deadens the soul, inasmuch as it destroys more than we could possibly imagine.  But the deadly sins — also called capital sins — have a particularly deadly effect upon us.  The deadliness that is being addressed here by St Paul is the deadliness of envy.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience of knowing someone who suffers from envy…and you just look at them and wish you could tell them how you see them, how wonderful they are, how much goodness is within them….but they don’t see it. Envy has a way of making one feel like a piece of dirt.

But this envy was nothing new. It was in the Church in Corinth. We see it in the first pages of the bible. There was Cain who was envious of Abel: Cain was envious of Abel’s superior sacrifice.  Then there was the story of Jacob and his sons. Joseph was the youngest, and his father loved him in a particular way. The brothers were envious of this love. In both these cases, envy led our ancestors to do something unthinkable–to kill. There are countless stories of envy in the OT–and in the new. Remember the tenants in Jesus’ parables who always wanted what the others had. Remember how even some of the apostles became envious of each other, always wanting to be first in the Lord’s eyes and in his kingdom.

How can we fight against the deadly sin of envy?  Two things:

  1. Admiration – We should admire the qualities and gifts in others.  Yes, someone may have some advantage that I don’t have or some fortune that isn’t mine. Someone may have a personality trait that I wish were mine.  But God gives me my fair share. And we should admire those who have other things. Once a wise priest told me, “As I get older, I realize that everyone I meet is in some way better than I am–they’re cleverer than I am, they’ve done things I’ve not done, they have an insight into life I don’t have….”  What kills envy is being able to see in OTHERS God’s blessing
  2. Rejoicing – In who you are!  The prophet Nehemiah says in our first reading: “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”  We rejoice in who God made us to be. I think it’s a healthy thing to say in a humble way, “There’s no one else I’d rather be!”  Because God has made me who I am. We should be secure in that, confident in the self that we have been made by God to be. That’s one thing we try to teach our kids at school here: to be self-confident…that is, to believe in themselves, to love the “self” God gave them.  Rejoicing in who WE are helps us then to rejoice in who OTHERS are….instead of being envious of them.

Our Gospel tells how, one day, Jesus entered the synagogue and read to a group of people who were suffering, deadened by sin and strife, who wished they had a different lot in life. It’s as though he is telling them, I love you so very much – and how I wish you could see it.

He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

That same Spirit is upon us! Now it’s our turn to and remind people how wonderful they are.