Years ago, I was walking down a street at night and two young men were in the midst of a fight. Well, almost a fight. Each yelled at the other, shouting things like “Come on, let’s go,” and “I’ll kill you.” But the funny thing was that while they were yelling threats, they were each walking away from one another. Clearly, they didn’t really want to fight, but each felt he had to prove that he was more willing to fight than the other.Why do people fight? Why do nations fight? It’s a good question. We are involved, as a nation, in two wars and there are other nations involved in civil and international hostilities. A You Tube movie can cause riots and killing.In today’s readings, the Letter of James asks us, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.”We fight when we covet something someone else has — we try to take it and they resist, of course. Is this true? I suppose that the two guys I encountered wanted to preserve their pride and reputations as tough guys, and each was trying to take it away from the other. When it comes to national conflicts, terrorists seem to envy the power of the U.S. government, and try and destroy that power.Maybe that’s too simple. But I think the reading has a good point. Nothing good comes from envy. At least not for me. When I envy others, it means I feel inadequate about myself. I should do more, earn more, have more; then I would be a real success. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is appalled to find his followers fighting among themselves over “who was the greatest” of Jesus’ disciples. “If anyone wishes to be first,” he tells them, “he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”Of course, in our materialistic culture, we are trained to covet what others have, whether it’s a car, or beauty, or money, or power. You could even say that envy is the engine of our economy. Companies work hard to make us long for their products, suggesting that the bright new thing will help us feel complete. But envy never ends. There is always someone ahead of you, and always something new you’re told you absolutely must have. Jesus turns this idea on its head and tells us that true greatness, the greatness that fills our souls and not our bank accounts, comes from service. If you want to get ahead in God’s kingdom, Jesus tells us, go help someone else get ahead. Rather than seeing others as competitors for social acceptance, see them as other souls seeking satisfaction.Like most of what Jesus calls us to, it isn’t easy to be “the last of all and the servant of all.” It should be; it’s much easier to lose the rat race than it is to win it. But psychologically, it’s tough to take that approach. However, as Jesus and the Letter of James tell us, there’s nothing to win in that race. The winners lose in the end, and losers win it all.Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]