Of Jealousy and Judgment

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Last week our scripture readings warned against jealousy, with Christ admonishing the Apostles for arguing about who among them was the greatest.  This week the lesson in humility continues with a warning to not be jealous of another’s gifts.

In our first reading (Nm 11:25-29), a young man complains to Moses that two elders are prophesying who (in his opinion) should not be.  They were not among the elders gathered in the camp when the spirit of God came upon them.  Moses asks the young man, “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”

Our gospel reading (Mk 9:38-48) recounts a similar tale.  John complains to Jesus that someone is driving out demons who is not one of the (known) followers of Christ.  Jesus tells John, essentially, to mind his own business.  He then launches into a sermon about the importance of rooting out personal sin.  In other words, turn that judgmental eye off of your neighbor and onto yourself.

We can be jealous of another’s possessions, appearance, or status.  We can be jealous of another’s spiritual gifts.  We can be jealous of their station or position.  I’ve seen it many times, even within the Church.  Why did the choir director have that person cantor the psalm?  I have a better voice!  Why did the pastor ask her to help plan the youth retreat?  I’ve been volunteering for longer than she has!  Why did the campus minister ask him to be on the Peer Ministry Council?  I never see him at our Bible study!

At its heart, jealousy means we are judging others as being less worthy than ourselves.  They don’t deserve those gifts — I do.  Lest we forget, judging others is something we are forbidden to do (Mt 7:1).  There are two phrases that often come up whenever moral issues are discussed or people are accused of being judgmental: “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” and, “Who am I to judge?”

People often confuse judging a person with judging a person’s actions.  Who am I to judge another person?  Absolutely!  It is God’s place alone to judge the soul.  When we judge the state of another’s soul, we usurp God’s authority and invite judgment upon ourselves.  Who am I to judge another’s actions? This is a different matter.  While we are forbidden to judge the state of anyone’s soul, we are commanded to judge actions.  If we could not judge the rightness or wrongness of actions, we would have no way of avoiding sin.

Can you condemn a person’s actions without condemning the person?  How do we hate the sin and love the sinner?  It helps to consider the three conditions which the Church teaches are necessary for one to be in a state of mortal sin — that is to say, a state of separation from the life-giving grace of God.  There are three conditions which must be met:

  1. Grave matter — the person must have committed an act which is objectively a serious sin.
  2. Sufficient knowledge — the person must have known the act was sinful.
  3. Sufficient use of will — the person must have wanted to perform the act.
Numbers 2 and 3 are subjective matters of which we have no knowledge when it comes to others. There is no way for us to be in another’s head or know another’s heart.  Further, we also generally don’t know whether that person has since repented of their sin.  In other words, we cannot know the state of another’s soul.
On the other hand, number 1 is objective.  We can know whether the act itself is sinful or not.  Not only is it permissible to make such a judgment, but it is considered an act of charity to admonish the sinner.  Sin is harmful — even deadly — to the soul.  If we truly love our neighbor, we want them to be happy and holy.  We want them to be close to God.  And so we rightly warn them away from sin.  This requires us to make moral judgments concerning actions.
But we are called first and foremost to make moral judgments about our own actions.   If we are scrupulous in judging others’ actions without examining our own actions, we are guilty of the worst kind of hypocrisy.  We should look to our own behavior, our minds and our hearts and when we find sin there, root it out with the help of Christ.  Jesus warns us just how serious a matter sin is.  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . . If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off . . . If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out . . .”
Now, I don’t want to see any one-eyed or one-legged students showing up at Mass this week!  Jesus here is engaging in hyperbole for the sake of emphasizing just how serious sin is.  Self-mutilation is in fact a sin.  God made your body and you are called to care for and respect it.  Jesus’ point is that bodily harm, as bad as it is, is minor compared the the harm of eternal separation from God caused by unrepented sin.  
St. Ephaim the Syrian
One of the many reasons jealousy is wrong is because it keeps us concerned with judging others and prevents us from turning our gaze inward to discover our own sins.
St. Ephraim the Syrian, doctor of the Church, has very good advice for those who are tempted to judge others.  “Search not out the faults of men; reveal not the sins of your fellow; the shortcomings of your neighbors, in speech of the mouth repeat not.  You are not judge in creation … If you love righteousness, reprove your soul and yourself.  Be a judge of your own sins, and chastener of your own transgressions.”
Rejoice at your neighbor’s triumphs.  Be sorrowful over their failings.  But do not neglect to turn your gaze inward, identify your own sins and come to repentance.  Make a good confession.  Be reconciled to God.   Then turn your gaze, unclouded by sin, upon God, the source of all holiness and joy, who loves each of us as His beloved child.