25th Sunday Reflection
Jesus was a tradesman, by tradition a carpenter or a stonemason. Jesus would have known what it meant to stand with other tradesmen and labourers at the gates of Caesarea waiting to be employed. Far from the royal palaces, the schools of rhetoric and the religious elite, these were the people who Jesus knew and associated with, one with them in their hopes, their emotions and their lives with every encounter; Jesus the expert on the human heart.
The disciples’ hearts are troubled, and they are aggrieved, just like the labourers in the vineyard we have been labouring all day. We also can feel agitation when we see those who have put in little effort, coming out on top.
Jesus teaching in this parable would have been understood beyond the obvious difference between equity and equality. Jesus teaching is about the nature of grace and Love which is never earned or deserved but derives from the very nature of God. God’s love like the sun cannot stop shining, cannot stop giving, cannot stop expressing its own nature which is to love.
In his admonition number eleven, St Francis warns his followers that whoever envies a brother or sister on account of the good which the Lord says or does in them commits the sin of blasphemy, envying the Most High God who says and does all that is good in his creatures.
Jesus, the Incarnation of Love, helps me to gaze into that dark place where the slithering antithesis of love resides; this is the nature of the enemy in the name of that enemy is envy. Envy looks upon the good that is given or befalls another and becomes aggrieved, becomes angry.
As the antithesis of love, envy makes me boastful of my own achievements and spiteful towards those others I see rewarded. Envy and jealousy have much in common as double-edged emotions that corrodes both the protagonist and the goods desired. Envy however is particularly corrosive as it desires without any right, what another person has been given, whether this is health, beauty, youth or intelligence. Envy does not desire these qualities in general but wants the other persons’ person’s gifts or status; envy is illegitimate and undeserved.
Envy leads to sadness at the sight of an others’ good fortune. St. Augustine saw this sin of envy as the diabolical sin. He said from envy is born hatred; from envy is born detraction; that is telling the truth about someone’s character to another who has no right to the information. From envy born calumny, that is telling lies about someone’s character to another in order to destroy or ruin someone’s character or reputation.
The trouble is, bit by bit, I can come to believe I deserve more than those others. When God is generous to those others, especially those who have hurt us, I come to resent it. Sorrowful and angry at the goodness of another because they make us look bad, we set out to destroy what is good in them.
We envy others; their good luck, their popularity, good looks, intelligence, possessions, their partners in marriage, their fame and we say: “How come they got all that? How come God seems to have given them more than me? Surely I deserve more?” The more envious and resentful I become, the less I am able to appreciate my own good fortune; the gifts and graces that I have received. I have poisoned the well of my own joy.
Let us for a moment picture a familiar scene. In every classroom there was always one student, sometimes a few, who get A’s on every test. They always behaved well, and the teacher sometimes praises them saying, “Why can’t the rest of you be like Johnny or Susie?” We hate students like this. They make us look bad. So, what do some of us do? We seek to pressure the “teacher’s pet” to conform to mediocrity. In effect we seek to destroy the goodness or excellence in them. We taunt them with names and pelt them with spit balls.
If ridicule and isolation doesn’t work, we’ll just plain beat them up. This is envy. Sorrowful and angry at the goodness of another because they make us look bad, we set out to destroy what is good in them. Perhaps we could learn from them or their good example. But envy rejects joy and zeal and with sorrow and anger sets out to destroy what is good.
Envy can be subtle; sometimes it is more subtle and something we do almost without thinking. When someone at work is a rising star we may easily engage in gossip and defamation to undermine their reputation or tarnish their image. We may do this at times in an unreflective manner. Almost without thinking, we diminish and belittle others and their accomplishments by careless and insensitive remarks.
We often do this because we need to knock others down to feel better about ourselves. This is envy. Sometimes we show envy passively by omitting to praise or encourage others or by failing to call attention to their accomplishments.
Envy is subversive and manipulative using superlatives and relationships to bolster our personal esteem and pride while devaluing the value of others.
Envy can be concealed with a smile, “What a lovely dress, but maybe that colour makes you look fat… Could the money not have been used to feed the poor!” Envy is ugly, insidious especially when it masquerades as goodness.
At the end of this week let us make an inventory of everything God, and others, have given us, and we will find it much easier to be generous with others and to banish the poison of envy and resentment that result in so much suffering in our world.
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