25th Sunday Reflection: ENVY
Franciscan Reflections From The Hermitage – 25th Sunday In Ordinary Time Year A – ENVY – (Matthew 20:1-16)
That’s not fair! As we listen to the Gospel story, it is easy to empathise with the aggrieved workers. “That’s not fair, we have laboured for a full day, in the hot sun, and those others who have worked only for an hour but have received the same wage as we have….how can this be just……?”
Have you received what was promised, the wages of a day’s labour? Yes, but those others, have done less work and received the same wages… surely we deserve more!
Have you been treated unjustly in the wages you have received? No, but…those others… they received more… ! Instead of rejoicing in their good fortune, we are angry and resentful.
This week the Gospel is about goodness, about generosity. We discover that it is difficult to be generous to others when we haven’t yet appreciated how much we ourselves have been given.
In Admonition no 8 of St Francis he states “There is none that does good, no not one. Whosoever, therefore, envies another on account of the good which the Lord says or does in them, commits a sin of blasphemy because he envies the Most High Himself who says and does all that is good.”
The Catechism tells us envy is a capital sin, a sin that tends to lead to other sins and it specifically refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s good. It refers to the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself… even if it means acquiring them unjustly.
St. Augustine saw this particular sin of envy as THE diabolical sin. He said envy is born hatred… from envy is born detraction, telling the truth about someone’s character to another who has no right to the information. From envy born calumny… telling lies about someone’s character to another in order to destroy or ruin someone’s character or reputation. Envy is really a reflection of the ancient serpent, Lucifer, who wanted to be like God and to be greater than God and would do anything to ruin our souls.
What does our Holy Father St. Francis say? The apostle says no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. The apostle (referring to Paul) also says that there is no one who does good, not even one. Therefore whoever envies another the good which the Lord says or does in them, commits a sin of blasphemy because he envies the Most High who says and does every good. So envy is really the sin of blasphemy.
This week the servant who was given a full day’s work and a full wage is envious of his brother because he has missed the experience of being generously treated himself. It is from the knowledge of generosity bestowed upon us that we learn to be generous with others.
We can be like those servants who worked hard all day… and we have … we have laboured hard… All those Masses we’ve offered … our Reconciliations … our prayers… our donations to the needy … our forgiveness of those who hurt us … our faithfulness in marriage … our sacrifices for the kids. We have been faithful and we have laboured hard.
The trouble is, bit by bit, we can come to believe we deserve more than those others. When God is generous to those others, especially those who have hurt us, we come to resent it. Deathbed repentance is not always popular. We resent God’s generosity to others because we fail to see his generosity towards ourselves.
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?” And, 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.
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 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 spitballs. 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 can 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 can be concealed with a smile… What a lovely dress, but maybe that colour makes you look flabby … Could the money not have been used to feed the poor? Envy is ugly, insidious, especially when it masquerades as goodness. It actually diminishes and seeks to destroy goodness. The proper response to excellence and goodness is and should always be joy and zeal.
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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