Once upon a time, two not-so-smart very jealous people talk at the office. The first one says, “Hey, why is James our boss?” The other turns to his friend and replies, “Well, I don’t know, but I’m going to ask.” He finds his boss in the lounge and asks him, “Hey, Boss, why are you the boss, and I’m not?” James smiles and stands next to a wall. “Okay, Rick, I’m going put my hand here, and I want you to punch it.” Rick agrees and throws a punch at his boss’s hand. Before he makes contact, James pulls his hand out of the way. Rick’s hand smashes into the wall. He screams and holds his hand. “It hurts like hell!” “That’s why I’m the boss.” Rick goes back to his friend. “Hey, did you find out why he’s the boss?” says the one jealous friend. “Yeah, let me show you,” Rick places his hand onto his face and says, “Try punching my hand.”
Jealousy and envy, we know them both.
Look at the people of Nazareth. After prayers in the synagogue, the chief rabbi chooses Jesus to proclaim the scriptures. Jesus unrolls the scroll and after the reading they ask him to preach. His own townsfolk react quite harshly. They say, “This can’t be the same boy who grew up with us, is it?” “Where did he get all this?” “Isn’t he the carpenter?” “Oh, he’s the son of Mary, the woman who had her child early, ‘wink,’ ‘wink.’” “Wait, we know his family, his brothers and sisters.” “There’s James over there. We see Joses, Judas and Simon, and all of his sisters.” And since familiarity breeds contempt, Jesus, the neighborhood boy, remains a stumbling block for them.
Jealousy and envy, we know them both. And they keep us from building the kingdom of God.
Our Fr. David Turner defines jealousy as, “I want what you are getting.” He defines envy as, “I want what you have.” Jesus is at the receiving end of both jealousy and envy. These deadly sins are also present in the Christian community. These are the exclamation points of jealous and envy: “Where did she get all of her money?” “Oh, look who got elected.” “He thinks he’s big stuff now that he’s in charge.” “Who do you think you are?” These questions betray us. At their roots lie the rotting bacteria of wanting what you are getting and wanting what you have. Whether they are adulations, positions, beauty or money, jealousy and envy are the beginnings of adulterous attitudes. In other words, they always end in cynicism and sarcasm. A cynic is a scornful pessimist. A sarcastic person literally is someone who tears away the flesh. They are enemies of religion.
St. Gregory Nazianzen says that there are two things necessary for mighty works: the faith of the patient and the power of the healer. This applies to medical care as well as to moral transformation. Jesus could not work any mighty deeds in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. Jesus was amazed at his neighbors’ scorn and their biting words. The prophet Ezekiel uses the words “hard of face” and obstinate of heart” to describe people who refuse to believe. It isn’t that God cannot work miracles. The problem is that mighty deeds happen all the time around us. We refuse to see them because of our jealousy and our envy. Our bad attitude is like our hand on our face asking people to hit us. St. Paul could have turned into a cynic and a sarcastic person. Persecuted not only by others but also possessing a “thorn in the flesh,” St. Paul chooses the grace of God. In his prayer, God tells him that grace is sufficient to take care of the problem.
As we come forward for Holy Communion, may we be grateful and content instead of jealous and envious! May we see all as grace! In the words of the poet, May Oliver,
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket Franks, O.S.B.
14thSunday Ordinary Time Cycle B