“Are you a jealous person?” To answer that, I have one response that I give externally and a more honest response when I answer internally. Jealousy is a universal human experience. Understanding it and learning how to deal with it are better than denying that we even feel that way. Confronted with the Gospel reading for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, how might we take the invitation that God gives us to examine that part of our lives?
Jealousy always has to do with comparison. If we keep our eyes, minds and hearts focused on our own life and our own giftedness, we would never experience jealousy. When we take the events of our own lives and compare them to other people, we become jealous in the comparison. We know that at any moment, our lives are better than some people’s and worse than others’. There is always someone who has more money than we do and someone who has less. Compare health, position, prestige, influence or any other level of life, and we experience the differences that we have among us. If we spend time in comparing to others, we will always experience jealousy.
There are several antidotes to jealousy. I have already mentioned one of those, which is to stay focused on our own life and not compare our lives to others. That is almost impossible to do since we live in such close quarters and have so much information about each other. What else can we do to help ourselves when we experience the emotion of jealousy? How can we avoid the power of the “green monster,” and live in peace with our own lives?
Consciousness and awareness of the condition of our life often is the antidote to jealousy. If each of us would wake up in the morning and be conscious of the gifts that surround us, we would really have no need to compare ourselves to others. Each of us wakes up with safe shelter, adequate food, sufficient clothing and safety and security. In comparison to other people, there are so many people who are at risk from insecure water. There are many people who live in the midst of warfare, rebellion, natural disasters, droughts or plagues. We simply don’t experience those things first-hand. Acknowledging and being conscious of the gifts that we have, and knowing that those are sufficient for us to live a well-rounded life, will be able to keep us from jealousy in comparison.
Another antidote to jealousy is satisfaction with our own lives. Many of us spend our lives wishing we were somebody else, wishing we lived somewhere else, wishing we had another job, or wishing the current situation of our lives away and wishing for some other existence. That sort of attitude leads to insecurity and anxiety. It gives us a lack of satisfaction for what is because we’re always looking for something more or something else. Why is it that we seem to never be satisfied when our lives have sufficient means to take care of us? Why is it that we have built our lives around more and more and more, and why is it that we become more possessive and controlling, even when we get more?
One of the closing lines of the Gospel this weekend is one of the most confrontational questions presented in the Gospels. In the story, there is a boss who is hiring at different times of the day. The people who work all day long become jealous of the people who only worked a few hours. They each end up getting paid the same agreed-upon daily wage. The boss asks the question: Are you envious because I am generous?
Are we willing to celebrate the blessings and gifts of others without somehow thinking that those gifts and blessings endanger us or cheat us? Are we willing to let God be generous in whatever situation He wishes, without judging whether we deserve more than someone else? Why would we ever take the giftedness of another person as a threat against us or a reason to be jealous of them? These Gospel questions presented this weekend are important for us. We live in a country of great prosperity, and yet we have one of the highest levels of anxiety and insecurity. If any of us still think more possessions will make us happy, we have been truly misled. If any of us are still seeing other human beings as enemies and competitors and threats to us, we have simply not ingested or begun to live what Jesus has taught us to do.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.