Are you envious because I am generous?

But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
-Mt 20.26-28

This teaching follows the story of Jesus’ third prophecy about his death and resurrection, the request from the mother of the sons of Zebedee that her sons should sit on Jesus right and left in the kingdom, and the resulting resentment from the other ten. The story is significantly preceded by the story of the workers in the vineyard, in which those who work longer complain that those who came later receive the same wage (Mt 20.1-16). The landowner concludes his scolding of the complainers by asking, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” The reader is left with the same question that she or he is left with after every parable: “who am I in this story?” In this case, we ask ourselves, “do I rejoice at generosity, including God’s, or am I tinged with envy?”

Last Saturday in my St. Francis of the Hills Secular Franciscan community, we read the Eighth Admonition of St. Francis of Assisi. I was taken aback (yet again) by Francis’ words:

The apostle says: “No one can say: Jesus is lord, except in the Holy Spirit” [1 Cor 12.3] and; here is not one who does good, not even one” [Rom 3.12].

Therefore, whoever envies his brother the good that the Lord says or does in him incurs a sin of blasphemy because he envies the Most High Himself Who says and does every good thing.

ItSaint Francis starts simply enough, we realized. We can say with some genuine humility how happy we are about the benefit another person received. But how quickly the twinge of resentment can grow into a tiny feeling of bitterness. As our Father Robert, our Spiritual Assistant, pointed out, how easily that feeling can be externalized into gossip and slander before we are fully aware of what we are doing: “Do you know what she did a few years ago…?” “I had lunch with him last week, and he had three glasses of wine…”, a thinly veiled but, sadly, socially acceptable act of revenge.

(At this point, we are all staring down at our books and wondering, “Who invited Father Robert, anyway?”)

But as Francis points about, the resentment and the revenge cannot be against the person, because, as he says elsewhere, “we may know with certainty that nothing belongs to us except our vices and sins.” Our envy, then, is directed at God’s generosity – such a swift slide into the sin of pride that is always a form of blasphemy against the One who sustains each breath we take and gives us all good things.

As Jesus emphasizes, and as we all try to remind ourselves daily, the only remedy for pride is humility. It is not surprising, then, that the entire episode in Jericho concludes with the healing of two anonymous blind men along the roadside (20.29-34), who beg that “their eyes be opened.” They provide the counterexamples of faith to the pride of the two sons of Zebedee (hmm, I guess mom makes three!) just before Jesus makes the “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem on his way to that most humble of deaths, the crucifixion. “Seeing” that “the way up is down” is indeed the gospel, and Francis points to our only path at the end of his glorious “Canticle of the Creatures”:

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

We concluded in our meeting that this was easier said than done! “Let us begin again…”

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

One thought on “Are you envious because I am generous?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *