Today's Mass readings (Zechariah 8:1-8 and Luke 9:46-50) are about jealousy.
The Gospel begins with the apostles arguing over which of them is the greatest. They're competing to be #1. In doing so, they compare themselves to one another to see who will come out on top. After Jesus admonishes them to be more humble and child-like, John shows his possessiveness and jealousy. He doesn't like the fact that someone who is not part of "our company" has been successful in casting out demons in the name of Jesus.
Where does jealousy come from? From comparison--comparing ourselves to others and ending up jealous of how much better others are. Better looking, more intelligent, more talented, more blessed. Sometimes when we compare ourselves with others we end up feeling good about ourselves at their expense, thinking, "well, at least I'm not as bad as so-and-so." Either way, as a saying goes, "compare and despair."
What is the antidote to jealousy? Gratitude. We all tend to be "half-empty" people. We see the glass and ourselves as half-empty rather than half-full and we want what others have in order to fill up the emptiness. Gratitude helps us focus on the blessings we have and so that we don't compare ourselves to others: "I am a beloved child of God, my Heavenly Father, who loves me with an infinite love. What more could I want?"
This was Jesus' secret. He knew himself as the Beloved Son of the Father and this freed him to be totally himself. He played no games, put on no facades, and had nothing to prove. Filled with the knowledge of the Father's love, he was secure in his identity, never compared himself to others, and was never jealous.
But what about that first reading where God, speaking through the prophet Zechariah, says: "I am intensely jealous for Zion, stirred to jealous wrath for her." Is God jealous? Yes, though not in the way we humans are. Our jealousy comes out of our half-emptiness, our lack or need. Since God is fullness itself there is no jealousy for someone who has something that he does not have.
So what is the jealousy that God has? It comes from his love. God is a Trinity, a Communion of Persons. God's very nature is Love. God was perfectly happy in himself but it is the nature of love to want to share and so God created a world and creatures who were capable of receiving divine love and returning love. God created us to share in the very life of the Trinity, a Communion of Love.
St. Augustine wrote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Our hearts are restless with jealousy when we ignore the great gift God has given us, when we seek to fill the emptiness within us with substitutes for God--possessions, pleasure, power, prestige.
God has a "jealous wrath" when we accept those substitutes because he knows how ultimately unsatisfying and hurtful they are. God is angry at sin and its effects in our lives.
We can take St. Augustine's words and make them our prayer today: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, for love, for union with you, and for communion with all your children, your saints. Because you love us, all you want is our happiness. You know that we cannot find happiness anywhere else and so you desire--in a way that resembles intense jealousy--that we accept your love alone to fill us so that we might find true happiness. Because you love us, you are happy when we are happy, truly happy. May your love fill my emptiness. As I return love for love, loving you in my neighbor, I am emptied to be constantly filled with a fresh outpouring of your love. Thank you!"