MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST: A HOMILY ON THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKU HENRY NWOKORO, CSsR, BENIN
There are 7 deadly sins, namely Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth. St. Anselm of Cantebury tells us that of all the Seven Deadly Sins, there is only one of them that does not give us pleasure, and that is envy. A proud person feels good about himself. After a revenge, a person feels good. A greedy person feels good about what he accumulates. A lustful person feels sexual pleasure. A glutton feels the pleasure of food and drink and a slothful person enjoys wasting time on unnecessary things. But Envy is different. Envy is the feeling of sadness over another’s happiness, blessing or achievement. It is the sadness we feel when we hear something good said about another person. The only time we enjoy it is when something bad is said about that person. That is why we enjoy gossiping. St. Augustine as the bishop of hippo realised how much people gossip when they sit with him at table. So on the table he wrote “Who injures the name of an absent friend may not at this table as guest attend”. This is a sweet way of saying “No gossiping is allowed here”.
Usually at mass, when the priest invites us to reflection or to prayer he would say ‘my brothers and sisters, let us…’. Sometimes if you see how he relates to them after the mass you will wonder if he believed himself when he called them his brothers and sisters in Christ. Exceptions can be given to some families where people wish evil for each other. In a normal family, a father would rejoice over the growth of his children and brothers and sisters would rejoice over the good things that happen in the lives of each other. So, if we feel sad over the good thing that is happening to someone, it is a sign that we dont consider that person a family member. If we are truly Christians, then we will consider every human being brothers and sisters, because then Jesus would be our brother and we will all be children of the same father.
In the first reading, when the young man saw that the Holy Spirit had come upon Eldad and Medad, and that they had also become prophets, sadness came upon him. The reason he gave for his sadness is that Eldad and Medad were not part of the original group. In other words, they are outsiders. This is the reason why we feel sad over the good things that happen to other people. We consider them outside the family.
A similar story is seen in the Gospel. John was also sad over the man he saw who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus. His reason was also similar. According to him ‘…he was not one of us’. We have divided the world into those who are one of us and those who are not one of us. We even expect God to play the same game with us. But God cannot play such game because we are all his children. If we know we are all his children then we will know why the priest always says ‘my brothers and sisters in Christ’. Whenever the Pope writes an encyclical, he would usually address it to all men and women of good will. This is another way of saying, all those who are not against us, even if they belong to other religions. In this way, the church is truly Catholic, universal and open to all people of good will.
The second reading speaks of the attitude of the rich towards the poor. It tells the rich to weep and be sad, because their wealth is rotten. When people work for them, they pay them very little. This is one of the sins that cry to God for vengeance. The attitude of the rich towards the poor range from being uncharitable to them to being disrespectful to them to being violent to them. I know a very rich man who used to beat up poor people and put them in the boot of his car, and because he was a top government official, nothing was done to him. Rich people can be envious of the poor in the sense that they dont want the poor to ever become rich. They are happy to continue giving food and drink and little money to the poor as a way of keeping them perpetually poor. Sometimes, the rich does not even ask to know what the name of the poor man or woman is. They are not one of us, because they are poor. One rule of thumb would be to always imagine that person to be your blood brother or blood sister. This way, we will know exactly how to treat them.
Whenever we hear something good happening to someone, we usually say ‘I am happy for you’. But do we really mean this? The responsorial psalm tells us that the precept of the Lord gladdens the heart. A big part of that precept is that we are all brothers and sisters, children of one Father, through Jesus Christ our Eldest Brother.
Usually in Nigerian movies you will see two guys growing up in the village under harsh conditions. One day one of them moves to the cities and after some years, he becomes rich in the city. His friend also came to the same city but did not become rich. One day he is driving and sees his friend hawking pure water by the road side. He stops and they are overjoyed to meet again. He quickly tells his friend to throw the pure water business away and join him in whatever has made him rich. He shows sadness in seeing his friend hawking pure water, but he does not show sadness for other people on the same street who are also hawking pure water. Why? They are not his brothers and sisters. At least, so he thinks.
The level of our love for others has a lot to do with how we will enjoy heaven. If I am sad over the good things that happen to someone, then I will be sad if I come to heaven and see them there. It could be so sad that I would beg God to send me to hell, since I cant bear seeing that person happy. But If I would rejoice over the good things that happen to everyone, then my joy in heaven will be multiplied. I will not only be happy that I made it to heaven, but I will be happy for every other person who did. This is an explosive joy, which I cannot imagine. This is why Anselm of Canterbury said “If anyone else whom you love as much as yourself possessed the same blessedness, your joy would be doubled because you would rejoice as much for him as for yourself”.
A story is told about a man who prayed to God for so many favours. One day God made him an offer. God promised to do whatever he asks, on the condition that another man who lived next door to him would recieve a double portion of the same thing. First he asked God to give him a beautiful wife. God gave him a wife, but gave his neighbour a wife twice as beautiful. Then he prayed for a car. God gave him a car and gave two cars to his neighbour. He prayed for money. God gave him a million and gave two million to his neighbour. When he saw the joy of his neighbour, he could not enjoy his own blessing. Finally he made one more request of God. He asked God to make him so sick that he would be half-dead.