Today is Palm Sunday in the Christian world, so there were a lot of people at church this morning. We processed from the front of the church around the block on East 187th Street and then back around again. People carried palm fronds, many waving them. It is a ritual done to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem when, according to tradition, people laid down palm fronds as he rode into town on a donkey. It was customary in the ancient world to welcome heroes or visiting dignitaries that way, usually with flower petals, often carnations or roses.
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on. Othello, Act 3, scene 3
Once inside the church, I took up my position in the Italian choir as third-string baritone and then prepared myself for the long reading from Mark describing the Last Supper and the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. This is known as the Passion of Christ. I have gotten into the habit of taking a pen with me when I go to Mass (or anywhere else), so I can take notes of things that come to mind or just observations in general. Long ago, I realized I can’t trust my memory. I forget the important things too easily and remember the daily stupidities all too well.
I am glad I did, because I heard something I had never noticed before. When we got to the part where the chief priests deliver Jesus to Pilate, Pilate asks whether they want Jesus, the “king of the Jews,” released. According to Mark, Pilate asks this, because he knew they had handed him over to be crucified “out of envy” (15:10). In Italian it’s even worse. The word is invidia.
What, exactly, were they envious of?
Several times Jesus is described in the Gospels as “speaking with authority.” The word used in the original Greek is closer to “profess” or “witness.” What was Jesus giving witness to? The truth. But then, as now, that can be deadly. We are not content with hiding from the truth or not speaking it ourselves. We don’t want anybody else doing it, either. It makes us feel uncomfortable and somehow inferior. It also forces us to face our demons.
But there’s even more to it. Envy–invidia–eats us alive from the inside out. It can be an overwhelming emotion that poisons everything we think, speak, and do. Why would I let that happen? How could I be so consumed with envy toward another person that I would betray him? In the end, it doesn’t make me feel any better about myself. Dragging somebody else down doesn’t lift me up. What, then, is the point?
Nothing. Or, maybe, nothingness. If you have something, then I don’t. If you have recognition, wealth, and popularity, then I don’t. I can’t, because my cosmology is one that is mechanistic, where cause and effect reign supreme. It is a worldview in which there is limited matter and energy. If you have x, then I cannot have x. The laws of thermodynamics apply here, which describe a universe of winners and losers, at least in terms of energy. If you are a winner, then I am a loser. You can’t have both. Hating losers, I end up hating myself. Self-hatred, even loathing, becomes the air I breathe.
The message of love professed by Jesus is the opposite, of course. The more you give, the more you get. The last are first, the poor rich, the weak strong, and sinners saved by grace. None of it makes sense, nothing about it “adds up,” and everything feels turned upside down. I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t like it. I will tear it apart. I will tear myself apart.
I think that’s what community is for–to stop me from hating myself–even if it only lasts for a week. Don’t we all need that kind of help?
Flickr photo by Nell Moralee shared under a Creative Commons (BY 4.0) license. Note to Self: “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think,” Socrates. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.