Today's readings from Scripture give us a good contrast between how mankind tends to behave on our own, and how we are capable of behaving with God's grace.
In the "bad behavior" column, we have the example of the wicked one related in the book of Wisdom. He has it in for the just man because he finds him obnoxious. He complains that he "reproaches us for our transgressions of the law." In other words, the wicked person is doing bad things, and is annoyed that someone would call him on it. So what does he do? He decides to test the just one. He will revile him, torture him, and even "condemn him to shameful death," all to test his gentleness and patience, and to see whether God really loves him. After all, if God loves him, He will save him, right?
This is, sadly, too often the mindset of those who live in darkness. They resent those who live in light. They don't like having the darkness of their deeds pointed out to them. St. James describes them in his epistle reading from today. "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice... You covet, but do not possess. You kill and envy but cannot obtain; you fight and wage war... You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
This is a selfish mindset. It is a mind whose thoughts begin with "me, myself and I." I am good. I am right. The others are all wrong. My honor. My glory. My triumph. My abilities. I want. I deserve. We build ourselves up so much in our minds that we start to think we are beyond reproach. So when others do reproach us, we think, "How dare they!" When we do not receive the respect we think we deserve, we take offense. We start to see ourselves as victims of cruel and unjust people. We harbor hatred in our hearts.
But what about with God's help? If we follow God's wisdom, our first thoughts are not of "me, myself and I," but of others; chiefly of the Lord, but also our neighbors. Instead of hatred, envy, and conflict, we cultivate peace and humility in our hearts. So let's look at the "good behavior" column.
St. James tells us, "the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace." The wise and humble person accepts correction from others, because he or she recognizes that they can always grow; there is always something to learn.
In today's Gospel reading, the Apostles were acting in a very human way. They were arguing about who was the greatest among them. Jesus would have none of it. That's the way things might work in kingdoms of men, but not in the Kingdom of God. "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Our human expectations are flipped on their head.
Jesus underscores this by showing them a small child. And then their teacher and master, the awaited Messiah, the Creator of the Universe incarnate, tells them that when they receive a small child like this, they receive Him. After all, this is how our Lord and Savior chose to come to us. Not as a great warrior or noble king, but as a helpless child, utterly dependent upon others.
So the question we should ask ourselves is this. If God is humble, what right have I to be proud?
The root of sin is pride. It says, "I know better than you. My wants and desires are more important than your love and wisdom."
The root of holiness is humility. It says, "Let is be done to me according to your will, O Lord."
Comparing your greatness to others is a fool's errand. Jesus would not tolerate it among His Apostles, so He certainly will not with you. It does not matter if you are smarter, more devout, or holier than the next person. Rather than being "holier than thou," the only person you need to be holier than is yourself yesterday.