Tag Archives: envy

Ooh, I want that

by Marjorie George

Somewhere in my ancient past, my eighth-grade English teacher taught us that there is a difference between the words envy and covetousness. Envy, Mrs. Longyear said, means “I want one just like yours,” while covetousness means “I want yours.”

It’s a subtle difference: envy leans more toward simple jealousy, covetousness is downright larceny. Neither one is biblically acceptable because they are both based on my wanting you to have less so that I can have more. If I am envious of your new Ford, (and the advertisers will do everything they can to see to it), I am compelled to go out and buy a new Lexus.

In an ancient fable, a man is given the power to have anything for which he wishes with the stipulation that his neighbor will get twice as much. The man wishes for a big house and gets it, only to watch his neighbor receive a mansion. The man wishes for a million dollars, and, poof, there it is; his neighbor is given two million. Finally, the man wishes to be blind in one eye . . . better to suffer a little than to watch his neighbor succeed much.

Such is the path of envy. A friend said to me recently, “I have finally learned that you do not have to fail in order for me to succeed.”

Jesus tells the story in Matthew 20:1-15 of the vineyard owner who needed some day laborers. He went to the public square in the morning and hired several, offering to pay each $40. By noon he saw that he needed more workers, so he went back to the public square and hired some more. He did the same at 3 p.m. and again at 6 p.m.

At the end of the day, he paid every worker $40. “Wait a minute,” said the workers who were hired first thing in the morning. ”We’ve been working all day in the hot sun. And now you are paying the same wage to workers you hired late in the day.”

“Am I not paying you what I promised?” said the vineyard owner to the complaining workers. “Yes, but now we want more than the others. It’s not fair.”

“What is that to you?” replied the vineyard owner. “Or are you are envious because I am generous?”

Envy does indeed subvert God’s generosity. It says what God has given me is not sufficient — even if it is all I need. It is the two-year-old opening her present on Christmas morning, the gift her parents have picked out just for her, then watching her want her brother’s gift instead. Envy is the knife in God’s heart.

Charity of spirit is the antidote to envy. Not the giving away of possessions to the local thrift shop, but the giving away of one’s joy to the good fortune of another. It is joining in thanksgiving at God’s blessings upon friend and neighbor. It is rejoicing when another gets a promotion, snags a great husband, wins the lottery.

It is accepting with delight the gifts God has given me, and helping you to see the gifts God has given you, without wanting any of them for myself.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.





by the Rev. Drs. Jane Patterson and John Lewis

Because we teach exclusively in the area of the Bible, our first question about any spiritual principle is, “Is it biblical?” The seven deadly sins are not specifically biblical. Jesus doesn’t appear to have been big on lists of anything. But he was concerned about any persistent habit that erodes our heart and that eats away at our relationship with our neighbor (Mark 7:14-23). The destruction brought about by pinched habits of the heart goes in two directions, both inward and outward, just as the fullness of life brought by “clothing ourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27) begins within us and spills over as blessing for our neighbor.

The big lie that undergirds envy is the notion that anything that you have, you have at my expense, and anything I have, I have at your expense. Against this lie, Jesus said simply, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Not “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” But “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus would allow nothing to stand between ourselves and our neighbor, least of all envy.

What appears to have concerned Jesus was the way in which some of our narrow little habits of mind destroy both ourselves and others and misconstrue the bounty of God. To Jesus’ way of thinking, what my neighbor has, whether materially or spiritually, is intended to overflow to my benefit; and what I have is intended to overflow as a blessing for my neighbor.

The sin of envy has two faces: one is my envy of what someone else has or is, and the other is the way I secretly desire to make others envious of me, which is at least as destructive. A member of one of our discernment groups lived for a time in Egypt. The family’s maid stole some jewelry from the dresser-top, and the family was encouraged to press charges. When they went to court, they were surprised to find that the first questions were directed to them, not to their maid. “Do you know what financial responsibilities she has? Do you know whether or not she can live on what you pay her? Do you frequently parade your expensive objects in front of her?” The family was called to account for having incited the envy of the woman who worked for them, thus working her destruction.

Jesus calls us, time and again, to be scrupulous about the habits of our hearts, not for our own benefit, but for the full life of those around us. Following Jesus wholeheartedly is about cultivating the willingness to be pulled into the tow of God’s love for all.

The Rev. Drs. John Lewis and Jane Patterson are co-directors of The Work+shop (www.theworkshop-sa.org) and are on staff at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX.