Of all our scripture texts this week, I find this one about bitter envy and selfish ambition most challenging (v. 14). I struggle with my relationship to ambition. I made the uneasy decision to leave a journalism career, the source of my professional identity for over a decade, to write a novel and spend more time with my two young children. This decision doesn’t always sit well. I’ve watched people I once supervised advance in ways I can’t even conceive of now. My envy and ambition do their damage internally, dismantling my self-esteem until treating myself gently is difficult.
If James and I met over coffee to discuss his six verses, what would he advise? Would he point out that when he wrote where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind (v. 16) he was describing the kind that leaves self-esteem in shambles and replaces gentleness with something harsh?
Would I explain that I find more than a trace of partiality or hypocrisy everywhere I turn (v. 17), that false righteousness seems to hang in the air? Would I confess that I’m guilty of that? Would I say that the pandemic seems to have brought us a sense of moral superiority, a lack of humility, a false belief in our capacity for the wisdom that we think our neighbors lack? Would it dawn on me that my true quest is to find the gentleness I need to offer myself and others for not always getting it right, for not being the wisest, kindest, most generous, most productive, or the best at listening?
Would Paul then pick up his coffee cup, lean forward, and gently say that confession is wonderful soil for receiving the kind of wisdom that leads to a harvest of good fruit?
What do you need to confess today in order to receive the wisdom you need?
God, help me to see myself honestly, and receive your grace gratefully, so that I may grow in your wisdom. Amen.