This week in our new summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we meet one of the four matriarchs of the Old Testament. The wife of Isaac and daughter-in-law of Abraham, Rebekah was a strong woman in every respect. Though often depicted as quiet, humble, and willing to serve, Rebekah also had a sharp mind with strong opinions and was not afraid to voice and act on them. But the ambitious dreams she held for Jacob, her favorite son, eventually drove her to deception and manipulation.
Rebekah’s betrayal, however, ultimately accomplished God’s plan. Her moral complexity therefore makes Rebekah an intriguing character in the Bible. Was her deception in the end justified? Was her ambition precisely the driving force needed at that point in salvation history?
Ambition derives from the latin ambitio, which literally means “going around canvassing for votes.” An ambitious person therefore ultimately seeks power, honor, and recognition, either for herself or for another. Ambition is not wrong in itself and is a necessary attribute in life. God gave us an ego to accomplish and build things through creativity and an inner drive to succeed. The quality becomes problematic only when “proper ambition,” as Aristotle termed it in his Nicomachean Ethics, exceeds the “golden mean” and spills over into greed or “unhealthy ambition” focused, not on the greater good, but on selfish personal interest.
Here are three ways to discern whether you should curb your ambition.
1. Consider the End.
The moral quality of ambition in part rests on the objective pursued. If your goals align with God’s, then your determination to achieve that purpose will honor God. Otherwise, you should rethink your plan. Rebekah’s duplicity was the conduit to the development of the ancient Israelite nation. The end she pursued therefore was good.
2. Consider the Means.
The ends, however, do not justify the means. Rebekah used dishonesty to defraud her eldest son of his birthright. In Catholic moral tradition, lying is an “intrinsic evil” that can never be justified. Assuming Rebekah did in fact lie, could God have achieved his own ends without the falsehood?
3. Consider the Intent.
The difference between proper and blind ambition often emerges in the motive of the one acting. Though many seek power and prestige, Saint Paul tells us that our only ambition should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Was Rebekah’s conduct based on her desire to promote her favorite son or to fulfill God’s prophesy and the higher purpose that Jacob, and not his brother Esau, would be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel?
Rebekah was by no means perfect. Heroes rarely are. Even in their weaknesses, however, God never fails to bring about his plan through the imperfect people he chooses, like you and me.
 For her complete story, click here to listen to our weekend message on the Messages page.
Father Roger Gustafson