25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
James 3:16 – 4:3
Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.
Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.
Most fights in the present world boil down to one major tension – personal freedom v the common good. The rights and wants of the individual often come up against the needs of the wider group – whether that’s the family, the local area, the country or even humanity! Sometimes that’s obvious – think of the family. Potencial parents would almost certianly be richer, less stressed, less worried and more ‘free’ if they never had children – but they would also have foregone the innate good in human life, and humanity as a whole woudl suffer…and I’m sure no parent would ever give up their child, despite their cost.
Most of the time, for ‘society’ to move forward and bring everyone with it, some individual somewhere needs to forego something. Take the pandemic as a very recent example – we have had to give up a lot over the past 18 months, a lot of our individual freedoms (such as going out, working, seeing friends and family) all had to be given up to protect ‘our community’.
Now that we’re opening back up again, a lot of those individual sacrifices still require to be made for the sake of others in the community. We can’t enforce them all, they require personal concience and honesty – they require personal humility in sacrifice for the sake of the common good.
In the world more generally – how many times do we see people make decisions based on what woudl benefit them, and not the group as a whole. Politicians making decisions, not on what would be best for the country and (more importantly) the people in it – particularly most in need of care – but on what makes them the most money; accrues their party or faction the most power; best positions them or their friends for a career boost? “Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done“.
And, its when these desires rise up between people, groups or countries, that the worst of our humanity emerges. As St. James writes: Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? We are to easy to give into our own temptations, our own jealousy and use whatever means we can – forcefulness, underhandedness, dishonesty or trickery – to obtain it. And why? “Becuase”, we say to ourselves, “we deserves that promotion/position/power/award/payrise! That should be mine and I will make it so”. That is the human instinct.
But what this Sunday’s 2nd reading is saying to us is that, while it may be human instinct – it must not become the Christian impulse. “Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly“. My mum often tells me in those certain moments “What’s for you won’t go by you”, I’ve often found myself saying the same and accepting that “It is what it is” and, sometimes, you just have to work with what is there.
Sometimes, we ask God to change our circumstances. We pray for the promotion or to overcome the obstacles in front of us. But so often, we have “…prayed for something to indulge [our] own desire“. Sometimes, we already have everything we need to solve the problem…and sometimes, what we’re trying to solve isn’t really a problem.