If you have ever experienced jealousy, and few of us are exempt I imagine, then you know how imperialistic an emotion it can be. Rooted in comparisons, jealousy drives our attention away from what is good and positive in our own lives, and forces us to focus instead on what we what we lack, on what we desire but do not have, or, on what we do possess and are afraid to lose. It might be the attention and affection of another; or, someone else’s success, health, wealth, a beautiful home, a devoted partner, a dream job, a white-picket fence. Jealousy drives our attention to some privilege we see or imagine others enjoy, which, because it is lacking in our own lives, suddenly appears, in the time of jealousy, essential to our happiness and well-being. In today’s reading from Genesis, Joseph’s brothers are jealous. They hate Joseph because he reminds them of what they lack. Joseph is their father’s favorite: smart, good looking, well-dressed in a beautiful robe, clearly destined for success and leadership. (Who can stand a person like that?) The sight of Joseph is too much to bear, and many of us been there, he reminds his brothers of their own poverty, of what they lack and may never attain, so they plot to get Joseph out of the way.
Similarly, in the Gospel reading today, the tenants of the vineyard are jealous. They run the vineyard; they’ve done all the work, why should the landlord reap the rewards? So they murder the slaves and the son of the landlord in a plot to seize the vineyard and attain the inheritance.
When we are jealous, we do violence. The violence of saying ‘no’ to our lives; and, let’s face it, we don’t often wish the person of whom we are jealous well, either. Jealousy leads us to take the lives God has gifted us with for granted, and, in effect, temporarily wish we were living someone else’s life. If we only had this love, this job, this success, this body, we tell ourselves, then, surely we’d be happy.
But it isn’t true. God has seen to it that we be given everything we need in order to live the lives He has gifted us with. And our lives are a gift. We did not bring ourselves into existence and we cannot give ourselves breath. Our personalities, backgrounds, the people who come in and out of our lives to influence us and be influenced by us, our families, friends, abilities, desires, even heartaches and pain – so much we did not choose, and cannot control, because it’s a gift. It’s all a gift.
As Christians, we need not let our poverty, the awareness of what we lack, drive us to jealousy. Rather, we come to God in our poverty with open empty palms both expecting to receive, and to make an offering. What we expect to receive (and we can count on it) is everything we need to live the lives that God has gifted us with. What we offer (and all that God wants from us) is that we say, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for the gift of my life. Thank you for giving me everything I need to live it. Amen.
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