Imagine you are in the thick of the group of Joseph’s brothers in the hot sun doing the monotonous work of pasturing the sheep. You have been up working since dawn while he slept late. You see him coming from a distance energetically, in his colourful coat…
Or perhaps you are one of the scribes or chief priests who has never had a moment’s doubt about your favour in God’s eyes. You deserve every luxury as a sign of God’s favour in your life. But this Jesus is challenging you. Who is he? Uneducated, with questionable family. How dare he!
Envy occurs when we lack a desired attribute enjoyed by another. In today’s Gospel the scribes and chief priests who wanted the popularity that Jesus enjoyed with the crowds may have been envious. In the first reading, Joseph’s special coat may have been envied by his brothers as a sign of his privileged relationship with Jacob. Jealousy however, occurs when something we already possess is threatened by another person. Any of Joseph’s brothers, may have felt their father’s love for them was threatened by Joseph who was clearly Jacob’s “favourite”. The chief priests and scribes had power and status. Jesus was ‘up and coming’; a rising star. The gospel says they were afraid to arrest him because the crowds “looked on him as a prophet”. And to add to the insult, he challenged their righteousness with God, the source of their unquestioned superiority.
Both jealousy and envy can quickly lead to anger, hatred and even murder. We can look as far back as Cain and Abel or as near as our own families to see the damage possible. It may lead to a death of a relationship, or perhaps to love lost for a sibling. In any case it can cause lasting bitterness that is hard to overcome. When we are surrounded by others who share our negative feelings, such as Joseph’s brothers or the group of scribes and chief priests, it can be extremely hard to keep your head and do the right thing. Emotions are powerful sometimes, but we are meant to master them.
When we feel difficult emotions creeping into our hearts, we have a choice to make. What we decide is what makes them sources of sin or of grace. There is hope and help when we open our hearts to God and neighbour.
Making a regular examination of one’s consciousness* is one way to become more aware of emotions like envy and jealousy before they grow into something dangerous. Like weeding a garden, it is easier to manage emotions when they first surface than if we ignore them until they overwhelm us.
There is hope for us too, in Christian friendship and community. Sometimes admitting our feelings to someone who has overcome the same problem or who is simply a compassionate listener can help us to see the situation in a new light. A Christian friend or group can pray with us to handle it for everyone’s good, with God’s grace.
“Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts…
Examine me, O God, and know my mind;
test me, and discover my thoughts.
Find out if there is any evil in me
and guide me in the everlasting way.”