Devotional Day 21
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, free of hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.James 3:13-18
The End of the Earth
It’s not the first time I’ve heard a place called “the end of the earth.” Punta Arenas, where I was born, was “el fin del mundo,” with only Antarctica lying farther south in the country of Chile. This time the name “Finisterre” came from it being the furthest west Europeans could go on land before (they believed) falling over the edge of the horizon that sat on the water (obviously this was pre-Columbus). For many pilgrims over the ages, Finisterre was the final end point, whether reached by walking another three days, or (like us) taking a bus to town and walking the last couple kilometers to the Camino marker: 0.0km left. This marker stood just before a lighthouse that overlooked the rocky shore.
That morning we had stepped on our first wheeled vehicle in weeks to catch this bus from the main terminal. We boarded the Finisterre bus with tickets in hand amidst a rush of people (not all having made reservations).
The view was lovely and the temperature ideal, warm just enough for comfort, while the cloudy skies kept the blazing sun at bay. The walk was along the main road, which was busy enough with other (non-pilgrim) tourists.
Overlooking the Ocean
After reaching the lighthouse we also explored the cliff and enjoyed the view, climbing far enough down the rocks for the sound of waves crashing to drown out the sounds of human communication coming from the crowd. There we had a picnic lunch, followed by quiet time and space for writing while soaking in the coastal view.
I tried to find a good perch a little further down the cliff, but upon sitting in one of the few surfaces with a patch of grass, I quickly discovered that I had disturbed a colony of ants, and rapidly moved on, but when sitting down again on a hard rock looked for my phone and couldn’t find it. I was briefly afraid it had fallen when jumping up from the ants, and Dean helped me look around, and the third time I more carefully checked in my backpack I finally found it. Whew! Once settled down, I looked out to the ocean, soaking in the sounds, smells, and overall beauty. Further up Dean apparently also took advantage of an opportunity for a nap.
El Camino de Santiago was now truly over. We had reached “the end,” at least physically. Obviously one piece not yet done was the book of James, so I’m still walking with St. James in the days to come, while reflecting on this pilgrimage and continuing on life’s journey.
You are welcome to continue this part of the walk with me!
“bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”
In contrast to the wisdom from above, gentle wisdom, James hones in on earthly “wisdom” being fueled by wanting what is best for ourselves, and envying others who seem to have more. Instead of humbly reaching out to share life with others, there’s a pull to prove our value to ourselves and those around us. We feel the need to show that we’ve got it all together, we know what we’re talking about, we deserve respect and attention for whatever we’ve done to reach the identity of “expert.”
There are too many stories in the news of famous mega church leaders or televangelists who are elevated to the point of idolatry, and then come crashing down. Scandals are uncovered and abuse unveiled. Perhaps some of these leaders started with good intentions, but somewhere along the way selfishness and entitlement crept in, and soon “more” was never enough.
Motivation: Ministry or Material Gain?
It’s not always a dramatic scandal, but there are still plenty of “prosperity gospel” preachers (especially in some low-income countries) who warp Scripture for their own profit, living a life of luxury funded by earnest givers who are manipulated by false promises. They may be reaping in abundance by human terms, but ultimately they will be held accountable. How will they defend their actions on the final day of Judgment?
I’ve heard from a pastor in a tiny village in a poor country that for many current pastors, the motivation to enter the “ministry” was the income, and the higher in rank they got, the more power-focused they became. High church leadership was political, including corruption. Genuine, fruitful ministries were seen as threats, powerful leaders envying what they see as popularity. I’m grieved to hear these stories.
The Danger of Comparison
While it’s easy to shake our heads at the actions of the powerful, we don’t have to have millions of followers to be at risk of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition infiltrating our motivations, our hearts. Often they are linked to what may sound like the opposite of ambition: insecurity. When failing to find our own worth and value in Christ, we may feel that need to “prove” our importance. Seeing others do well makes us feel lesser, making it very difficult to genuinely share in their celebration.
A clear warning sign is a habit of comparison: assessing others in relation to oneself. She’s smarter than me. He’s more successful. Her kids behave better than mine. At least I’ve done better than him. I’m glad I’m not struggling as much as her. Avoid comparisons! And if you see comparisons in your own assessment of self or others, do a careful heart exam to see where they started and what damage they might be doing. Comparing ourselves to the “perfect” image displayed on social media only makes us feel worse. Judging others as lesser (to make us feel better about ourselves) is the opposite of fulfilling our call to love.
Comparison on El Camino
Plenty of times on El Camino I found myself comparing (internally) my own speed, or stamina, or endurance to that of others. The typical questions we asked one another, “Where did you start? How far are you going today?” are completely benign in and of themselves. They can be a foundation for encouraging each other. But hearing of the intention to go twice as far as we were didn’t exactly make me feel competent and enduring.
When a number of peregrinos passed by us, a part of me felt an urge to go faster. Perhaps a piece of that was related to the limited number of beds in each of the municipal albergues. Priority is given by order of arrival. Even when arriving before the doors were opened, that order was established as pilgrims lined up their backpacks or boots before relaxing in the shade.
Sharing and Caring
Pilgrims set a good example when no one made comments of comparison (at least not out loud). There was a general agreement that there isn’t one “best” way or best timing to walk El Camino. But I would venture to suspect that I was not the only one who internally noted where I fell in relation to others. I had to internally tell myself to stop it! We weren’t in a race for the finish, we were present for the Way itself. Yes, I saw plenty of lessons learned shared online with the Camino interest groups on social media, but for the sake of helping others prepare, not to feel approved. (Now there were indeed some strong opinions on the “best” choice to wear shoes or boots, the “best” choice of walking with or without walking sticks, etc.)
When talking to a fellow pilgrim, there was space to rejoice with one who did better than expected. We empathized with one those experiencing hurting feet or popped blisters, or simple fatigue that slowed them down. The same pattern can be applied to sharing life. Let it be more than just words; share the Walk—the hills and valleys, the learning and growing, the pain and the joy. Gently share wisdom from above when needed. Always share love.
Thank You, Lord, that You do not judge us in comparison to others or levels of “success.” Forgive the times I judge myself and others by human standards of competency or accomplishment. Help me stay motivated to serve and share with wisdom and love.
- Think about how you assess yourself and others. What standards do you use? What does “successful” look like?
- When do you see tendencies to compare yourself with others? When is it natural to share empathy and love?
- Ask Jesus to show you how He views you. Ask for help at times when you tend to judge based on earthly standards.