12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 20, 2010
To Lose is to Gain
Two neighbors are mortal enemies for years – and they compete all the time. An angel from heaven was sent to one of them and announced, “The Lord saw your bitter quarrels and competition. He wants you both to be happy. Ask for anything you like, and I will grant it to you.” The man was happily surprised. “Now,” he thought, “I can finally outdo my neighbor.” But the angel said, “There is one detail, though. You can ask for anything, and I will give it to you. But your neighbor will receive two times more than what you get.” The man’s face fell. His competitor will receive double than what he will receive. If he will ask for a mansion, it will be given to him, but his neighbor will get two mansions. “That cannot be,” he muttered to himself. After a long thought, he finally said to the angel: “I ask that I lose one eye.”
This story is about the capital sin of envy. St. Thomas Aquinas defines envy as the “sorrow for another’s good.” As shown in the story, the man chose to lose an eye so that his enemy will lose both eyes. This is the classic case of the so-called “crab mentality”: “If I lose, you also lose. I cannot allow you to win.” Jesus said something about it: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter” (Mt 23:13).
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus acknowledged the revelation about himself by the heavenly Father through Simon Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But he made sure this was taken in the right perspective. He quickly pointed out that his reign is not through domination and a spectacular display of his divine power, but through suffering and death. This is what the prophet Zechariah referred to when he said, “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:11). He is the Messiah who will be pierced, will sacrifice and offer his own life so that others may live. He showed that the way to life is by dying, the way to receive is by giving, the way to gain is by losing: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24).
The troubles in this world are caused by man’s selfishness and greed. It is the insatiable desire of people to have more, to gain more than the others. This attitude runs counter to the Gospel. While Jesus talked about losing everything, people talk about gaining big. For many of us, losing is not an option. If somebody has something that we do not have, we try to get it also, or we become envious – we are not anymore happy with the good fortune of the other. That is the sin of envy. And if we have something that others do not have, we are unwilling to share it with anybody for fear that we might lose it. This is the sin of jealousy. In both envy and jealousy, greed and selfishness are unmistakably present that make the idea of losing or sharing totally unimaginable.
Following Jesus means following the way of love, the way of self-giving, that makes one ready and willing to lose himself and undergo sacrifices. This is the only way to a meaningful and joyful life. This also leads to peace and unity in the community. We, who confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, are expected to bear the fruits of unity and love. Having one faith should bind us together into one community. Incidentally, the word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religare”, which means, “to bind”. This is what St. Paul declared in the second reading: “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).
Sadly, however, this is not what happens until now. We profess only one faith in Jesus Christ, but we are chronically divided. There are the Roman Catholics, the Oriental Churches, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, and the Born Again Christian sects.
In Liverpool, England, there is an annual ecumenical service named the “Two Cathedrals service”. This tradition was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Anglicans and Roman Catholics would gather together on the same street where the Cathedrals of the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics stand, to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. This year, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, spoke during the celebration. He said, “This reality of a divided Christendom is sin and is a scandal. It damages the holy task that is the mission given by the Spirit to spread the Gospel all over the world in order to reconcile peoples and to bring them together. This reality, we must say it without hesitation, is against Christ’s will, is against the testament he left us on the eve of his death, when he prayed that all be one.” He further emphasized: “We cannot preach reconciliation and peace and at the same time be divided and not reconciled among ourselves” (Zenit.org, May 25, 2010).
We can say that the disunity among Christians is rooted in the fact that for many of us, it is selfishness, greed, ambition, envy and jealousy that dominate our lives. We are now challenged by this Sunday’s Gospel to make our faith genuine. If we really profess our faith in Jesus Christ, we have to fully imbibe his spirit of self-giving love and readiness to sacrifice and lose oneself for God and for others. Only then can we say that our faith leads to peace, unity and eternal life and happiness.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002