“Mankind is tolerant of the praises of others as long as each hearer thinks that he can do as well or nearly as well himself, but, when the speaker rises above him, jealousy is aroused and he begins to be incredulous. - Thucydides (Greek historian, political philosopher and general)
Gospel Text: (LK 1:57-66)
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
Let’s talk about envy.
An odd subject for two days before Christmas? Maybe not. Holidays provide many opportunities for comparisons that can give rise to envy. (I wish someone had given me that nice gift. Why can’t my family be as happy as theirs?) If we read today’s Gospel with envy in mind, we’ll see how to resist this deadly disease of the spirit.
Joy and gratitude—both powerful antidotes to envy—seem to be hallmarks of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s family. But don’t these new parents have every reason to rejoice over the unexpected gift of their special son? Wouldn’t anyone in their place bless the Lord? Well, envy is sneaky. It’s always looking to poison happiness by injecting discontent. Say you’ve received something good: a promotion, a new car, a high test score, or even a spiritual gift. You’re pleased—until you notice someone who has received something that looks even better. If you nurture your pangs of sadness and resentment over their good fortune, envy enters in.
But this didn’t happen with John the Baptist’s parents. In fact, they showed the opposite reaction. Elizabeth set the tone in her earlier greeting to Mary. Instead of feeling miffed that her own child would not be as important as Mary’s, she exuberantly honored her young relative as “most blessed … among women” and “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:42, 43). Zechariah seconds his wife’s sentiments. Emerging from his months of silence, he foresees John’s lesser role as herald and blesses God for it (1:64, 76). Even Elizabeth’s “neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her” (1:58). Years later, John himself will stand out for his humility, as he too refuses to grasp at roles that are not his. Jesus “must increase; I must decrease,” he says, with no trace of envy’s sadness and self-pity (John 3:30).
Rejoice in the progress of your brothers and sisters. Because you, his servant, could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others. In doing so God will be praised.