Reading (James 3:13-18) Gospel (St. Mark 9:14-29)
In the first reading today, Saint James talks to us about wisdom and understanding. He tells us that these are gifts that come from above, and if we have true wisdom and understanding from above then they will be exercised in humility. And he tells us that we will find it in purity, peaceableness, gentleness, compliance, mercy, good fruits, consistency, and sincerity. Those are the things one can look for to see if the wisdom we have is really from God. If, on other hand, we find that there is jealousy and selfish ambition then it is clearly not from God. Even worse, not only is it earthly and unspiritual, but he tells us it is demonic. So we realize that if we are playing around with things like selfish ambition and jealousy that we are giving into the devil, not that we are possessed by any means, but rather the devil has a hold on us and we are giving into it because of our own jealousy.
What we need to be able to do is simply accept ourselves with the weaknesses that we have. That is part of wisdom. It does not mean we want to stay in a weakened state, but it is going to take time and prayer to be able to overcome these things. Some things, which are just part of who we are, we are never going to get rid of and we have to accept that. For instance, the level of intelligence that a person has is fixed. There is nothing you can do to make yourself a genius if you are not one; it is just that simple. You have to accept. “This is who I am and this is what God gave me.” Praise Him for that. There are people who get jealous over other people’s talents and abilities. “Why can they do all those things and I can’t?” That is not the question. The question is: Can we praise God for what He has given to someone else and accept what He has given to us and praise Him for what He has given to us rather than looking at everyone else?
Now we look at the situation in the Gospel today and we find some scribes arguing with Jesus’ disciples because the disciples are not able to cast out the demon. What are they arguing about? They are arguing because the disciples probably were upset – because of their selfish ambition and their jealousy – that they could not get rid of this thing, and then they started fighting. For what? Because they were not able to kick out a demon. Jesus makes very clear to them that there are some which can only be gotten rid of by prayer.
There are even some stories about the fact that the priests were not able to cast out a demon and some of the female saints then got involved. For instance, Saint Clare did this once. She heard about an exorcism that was going on and it was not going very well. Finally she said, “Bring him to me.” She prayed, rebuked the thing, and it left. You can see the power of prayer, the power of holiness that was there. Not that we are all going to be running around kicking out demons, but in this case it was because of the holiness of the individual that it worked so well. That is true, actually, in any exorcism. The holier the priest, the easier it is going to go.
Regardless of all of that, the other thing that we see happening here, and this is something very important for all of us especially with our jealousy and our selfish ambition, is that Jesus regularly gives us opportunities to see all of our problems. How many times did He have to rebuke His disciples for arguing about different things? They were fighting about who was most important. James and John wanted to call down fire on the village that would not receive the Lord. They were constantly getting themselves into problems because of their selfishness and their jealousies. So here again, the Lord allows this to happen. He is up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and this man brings the possessed boy and the disciples cannot deal with it, so they get angry and start fighting. Why? But isn’t that what He does to us all the time?
What are the areas of weakness that God wants you to work on? It does not take a genius to figure it out – just look at what keeps happening in your life! He keeps setting you up. He brings situations into your life, you fall flat on your face, and then you get angry. There is no need to get angry; that is God’s way of showing you where the weakness is (anger, by the way, being one of them). He is trying to help us see where the problems are and what needs to be worked on. So He keeps poking at us, preparing us, and setting us up for different things. Do not look for something to work on if God is giving you something. It is going to be right there in front of you regularly. Work on the situations and the virtues that God is placing in your life. Cooperate with Him. As long as He is giving you the opportunities, why fight with Him? Just cooperate. Accept what He is doing, recognize the weakness, and start to develop the virtue. Use the situations for good rather than for evil. That is what the Lord is looking for from us.
Then we need to accept ourselves. Do not get angry and do not get frustrated with yourself and do not call yourself names. It is not going to help anything. Just accept yourself with your weakness and then work on trying to overcome it. Again, that acceptance does not say, “This is the way it is and it’s going to stay this way.” When it comes to virtue, we have to accept that, yes, this is who we are, this is the weakness, but we are going to work on it and with God’s help we will become stronger and more virtuous. That is the attitude we have to have. Pride says, “I should be better than this.” It is pride, then, that leads to the jealousy, to the bitterness, to the anger, to the envy, and to all of the other problems that we get ourselves into. What the Lord wants is for us to be humble and to accept. That is what it comes down to. So we look at the apostles and we look at ourselves and we see that the pattern has not changed. The Lord continues to work to teach us the lessons that are most important and to realize that while these things are not demons, the vices in our lives can only be overcome through prayer.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.