Whew! What a goat-rope that election for the Speaker of the House was this week. It was wearying to see the infighting and negotiating for bargaining chips. But almost every election cycle, although in less lengthy and formal processes, there is battle for the gavel. Of course, we only see and hear a smattering of what really goes on; who knows what deals are made when power plays are going on. Will those deals be for the benefit of the people, or simply for the benefit of the power players? We tremble to think it.
I couldn’t help but think of such while reading recently the account of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate in the Gospel of Luke. The chief priests out of jealousy and hatred of Jesus incite the crowd with false charges to call out “Crucify him!” When Pilate protests of Jesus’ innocence, “…they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified.” And then, tragically… “And their voices prevailed.” (Luke 23:23)
Why did the chief priests and Pharisees incite the crowd? What had Jesus done? Some nefarious crime? Incited rebellion? Murdered? On the contrary, He had cured the sick, made the deaf hear and the blind see, taught a universal “Love one another”. Jesus had literally done nothing but good, yet His cardinal “sin” was being persuasive and popular, leading people away from those who had theretofore commanded attention and praise for their “wisdom” and “holiness”. And we read that Pilate “knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.” (Matthew 27:18)
Oh … accursed envy. Saints have written that envy is one of the worst of sins, because it leads us to so many other sins: slander, hatred, backbiting, calumny … destruction of the one who is envied, just as we see in the Gospels with the religious leaders attacking Jesus. We also can recall John 1: “…we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the Evil One and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous.” (1 John 3:11-12)
Why do the righteous so often suffer hatred and attack? We remember how the “goodie two-shoes” or “teachers’ pets” were persecuted by many children when we were in grade school. One wonders: “If the do-gooders were simply disdained, why did others bother persecuting them?” Perhaps because of envy of the approbations the righteous receive? But, if it is envy, why don’t the unrighteous simply do righteousness and receive the same approval?
The book of Wisdom, it seems, has a good exposition about this seemingly irrational behavior, citing at some length, with the unrighteous narrating:
“Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
…Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
…Let none of us fail to share in our revelry,
…Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
…But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
…Let us test him with insult and torture,
that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance…” (Wisdom 2:6-19)
Does this not sound like the envy of the unrighteous toward the righteous that we can observe almost daily in every facet of life? But why does envy desire destruction of good?
I can’t help but wonder if it is perhaps the unrighteous’ implicit realization of their own weakness—the inability to adhere of self-discipline and strength so as to abandon the evil or destructive and seek only the good. Such is the “reproof of our thoughts” that Wisdom’s author perceived in the envious.
We all have witnessed, and even experienced, the unrighteous trying to lure righteous to unrighteousness: “What, are you scared? What will it hurt? Just this one time!” … until it isn’t just the one time. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! Come on!” And then it becomes a slippery slope to increasingly fall into doing the wrong … to doing evil—much like beginning with “soft” drugs and progressing (digressing?) to ever stronger drugs, until OD’ing in some back alley. Or peeking into a little “soft” porn until ending up in prison having progressed to child porn … or worse. The “innocent” rubbing of the shoulders that ends up in adultery, divorce and shattered families.
No good is attained without self-discipline, and no self-discipline attained without courage and strength—willing to be ridiculed or shunned or even persecuted for the greater good of doing, well … the Good! … even when those opposed “shout all the louder”.
So, O Christian … will you follow Christ on your own little Via Doloroso? Will you pick up your cross and follow Him in truth and goodness? Or, will you be among the “… Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’…After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. (John 6:60, 66) “Will you also go away?” (v. 67).
Yes, self-discipline takes determination and effort, and the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. (cf. Matthew 7:14) “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12), “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) And “…he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength,” (1 Corinthians 10:13) for “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.