How many of you have ever struggled with jealousy?
Oh, jealousy, that ugly response that can lead to ugly things!
We all fall prey, do we not?
I do! I can recall jealousy of Gordon, who effortlessly swam to victory,
Dana, whose Master thesis was brilliant,
and Eric, whose pastoral faithfulness seemed beyond reach to me.
Jealousy, as a result of which, I never got to know these people.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good:
looks, achievements, possessions, relationships, social position, upbringing…
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Iago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Iago say,
O beware, O lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meet on which it feeds.
Jealousy plays tricks on the mind—and heart.
St. Augustine (+430) says, “He that is jealous is not in love.”
As it intensifies, jealousy becomes envy--deadly sin.
The sadness at another person’s good becomes anger and contempt,
with a desire to destroy that good.
Terribly, terribly disordered.
Hence, the words of Proverbs 14:30,
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot”.
The book of Wisdom (2:24) reminds us,
“By the envy of the Devil, death entered the world”.
The chief priests and elders are jealous, becoming envious, of Jesus,
and are unable to hear and welcome him.
Just before this passage, in the first half of Matthew 21,
we have Jesus’ entering Jerusalem with triumph, cleansing the Temple, “cursing” the fig tree and declaring such things as
“Whatever you ask in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
Saint John Chrysostom (+407), Church Father, says that
the Priests were tormented with jealousy, because they had seen Christ entering the Temple in great glory. And not being able to master the fire of jealousy, which burnt in their breasts, they break forth in speech.
Their question does not seek truth and encounter.
“By what authority…?”
Jesus’ response? Well, there is no inclination to cancel them.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question, but He’s not dismissive.
He gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be.
But, alas, they refuse… And, even then, “what do you think?”
In mercy, Jesus reveals their lack of faith.
Saint Jerome (+420) says “thus much prefaced,
the Lord brings forward a parable, to convict them of their irreligion.”
But, the parable is, as suggested, one of mercy,
designed to attract to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is seeking to reach them where they are fragile.
The doorway to the Kingdom is mercy,
the doorway to the heart of the King is gratuitous love that reaches us
in our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness.
Which son in the parable “did the will of his father”? The first.
The one whose immediate response was not exactly enthusiastic,
but who came around and did.
There may be times, in our relationship with God,
when we are not enthusiastic, are indifferent,
feel like we are going through the motions.
There may be times when we say “no”,
and pursue and get entangled in other stuff.
It is never too late to come around
—like the workers of the 11th-hour in last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16).
The wasted time is not held against us.
Indeed, the most unlikely people are “going into the kingdom of God ahead” of the elders, i.e., ahead of the serious people in Church,
accessing the heart of the King: tax collectors and prostitutes!
In other words, those who work for the occupant system
and those, well, whose lives are rather complicated
and make use of their bodies in ways they may prefer not.
These are messy lives that, likewise, do not seem to be
an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation.
What liberating revelation for us:
our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness
are not a hindrance to God’s attraction and embrace
The only hindrance is deliberate, pondered refusal,
for God respects our freedom to say “no”.
All that is necessary is a whisper of faith,
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.