I get frustrated. And when I get frustrated, more often than not, I end up acting like a jerk; I then become even more frustrated because I know I’m acting like a jerk. The whole thing is very frustrating. It’s a vicious cycle and perhaps my greatest struggle and personality flaw. A few years ago, my then girlfriend (now wife) started describing these cycles as my “jerk face” periods. Usually I become a jerk face over silly things: tasks not being completed quickly enough for my liking, waiting at red lights, having sticky syrup hands after pancakes at Denny’s, you understand. More often though, I get frustrated and become a jerk face when I compare myself to the people around me and realize that I am inferior, when I realize I’m not living up to my potential or baptismal call, when my laziness catches up to me, or when I’m caught selfishly serving myself instead of others. This is something that each of us struggles with to some degree, and we see this flaw illustrated and addressed in the readings this week.
The first reading from Wisdom looks at a group of people my wife would describe as jerk faces. In the reading they are referred to as the “wicked” and are upset at the “just one” because he calls them out for their offenses against the law and holds them to a standard much higher than the standard to which they hold themselves. This, in their words, is “obnoxious” to them. Of course it’s obnoxious to them! When I realize that someone is calling me out to be a better person, a holier person, a less lazy person, I get frustrated and annoyed too (and very quickly become a jerk face). In these moments it is hard to accept our faults and easier to act out against the person who exposes our shortcomings.
The second reading from James gets to the heart of the matter: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” Jealousy and selfishness? Check and check! We’re all guilty of both of those. This reading makes it clear that turning towards jealousy and selfishness is turning away from goodness and towards conflict; whereas turning towards mercy and peace is a turn towards peace and “good fruits”. These aren’t necessarily mind-blowing revelations or concepts for many of us; but when we’re guilty of being jerk faces, it sure is helpful to have these beautiful reminders in scripture.
Finally, in the Gospel, the disciples get called out for falling for these self-serving traps of selfishness, pride, and jealousy as they argued over who was the greatest disciple. Jesus says to them: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” In the times when our own inadequacies lead us to frustration, conflict, argument, and defense, know that the disciples struggled with those same feelings. When we have turned to being jerk faces, know that Christ’s response to this is for us to humble ourselves and serve those who challenge us, recognize our faults and seek to turn not towards defending ourselves, but to allowing ourselves to learn and be changed. Pray for me as I pray for you, that we all stop being jerk faces.