On Envy and Being Chosen

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Jesus spent the entire night in prayer to God. When it was day he summoned his disciples. He chose from among them the twelve, whom he also named apostles.

Luke 6: 12-13

Which person who has some experience of spiritual matters would desire that an angel come from heaven in order to make known God’s will, when it is possible to know it by following the ordinary way? . . . . God does not have to give an account to anybody of His actions. If His Majesty wants to use an ordinary, simple and uneducated person–yea, a sinner; if God wants to make this person turn toward Him in view of a special work; if God does not take the direction which people think He usually follows–in all this His Majesty is completely free and nobody is entitled to disapprove God’s actions, let alone oppose them.

T. J. Ryken, Letter to G.N. Hermans, 14 November 1844

On this feast day of Saints Simon and Jude, we read the account from Luke of the selection of the apostles. Luke’s version of Jesus’ choice emphasizes that the twelve are selected out of the larger group of disciples. This specific detail invites us to ponder what would be our experience of being among the chosen twelve, and of not being. In so doing, we are brought face to face with one of our most basic inner conflicts, what Adrian van Kaam describes as the tension between originality and quasi-originality.

To be among the disciples and not to be chosen by Jesus would likely result in feelings of inferiority and diminishment: the gospel equivalent of getting picked last for the team or not being invited to an anticipated celebration. We know that much of our sense of self, of what we call self-esteem, is determined by who we are in comparison to others and to the values of our time and culture. As Garrison Keillor constantly reminds us of the idyllic Lake Woebegone, it is where “all the children are above average.” We want to believe that Jesus’ selection does not reflect his lesser appreciation of the disciples not chosen, but in truth we would find this belief difficult. This is because, in van Kaam’s terms, we confuse our originality and our quasi-originality. Quasi-originality is the conforming identity we assume (and take to be original) in order to be accepted, appreciated, and respected by others. Yet, to whatever degree it violates the truth of our originality, it is extremely fragile. It relies on constant “ego-affirmations” from others to assure me of my value. An experience like that of the disciples who are not chosen can puncture the fragile and insecure sense of self that we build up based on those external ego-affirmations.

In today’s reading from Ephesians, we hear of a community of persons who live not out of “quasi-originality” but rather out of their true originality in Christ. “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Eph. 2: 19). As long as we live a life that is constituted “from the outside,” that is determined by the response of others, we experience a pervasive “self-alienation”. We live the insecurity of “strangers and sojourners.” But as we tentatively and gradually live more fully the truth of our own original “Christ-form” so that our truth in Christ becomes the “capstone,” we dwell personally and communally on a strong and inviolable foundation. The opinion or choice of the other in no way diminishes us because we are living the life that we have been chosen to live.

Christ is the truth in the sense that to be the truth is the only true explanation of it; the only true way of acquiring it. Truth is not a sum of statements, not a definition, not a system of concepts, but a life. Truth is not a property of thought that guarantees validity to thinking. No, truth in its most essential character is the reduplication of truth within yourself, within me, within him. Your life, my life, his life expresses the truth in the striving. Just as the truth was a life in Christ, so too, for us truth must be lived.

Therefore, truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being in the truth. Despite all modern philosophy, there is an infinite difference here, best seen in Christ’s response to Pilate. Christ did not know the truth but was the truth. Not as if he did not know what truth is, but when one is the truth and when the requirement is to be in the truth, to merely “know” the truth is insufficient — it is an untruth. For knowing the truth is something that follows as a matter of course from being in the truth, not the other way around. Nobody knows more of the truth than what (s)he is of the truth. To properly know the truth is to be in the truth; it is to have the truth for one’s life. This always costs a struggle. Any other kind of knowledge is a falsification. In short, the truth, if it is really there, is a being, a life. The Gospel says that this is eternal life, to know the only true God and the one whom he sent, the truth (Jn 17:3). That is, I only know the truth when it becomes a life in me.

Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity

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