†Text: Proverbs 14:30, James 3:13-18, Mark 15:1-15†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††† 5th Lent Midweek
The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy
††††††††††† In the name of him who was crucified for our sins, dear friends in Christ:† The Jewish leadership condemned him to die for blasphemy; specifically for claiming to be the Son of God.† But they knew that charge wouldnít stick in a secular Roman court; so before Pilate they accused him of insurrection and treason.† But as we heard a few moments ago, Pilate knew that what really lie behind their accusations Ė accusations that he knew to be false Ė was their envy of Jesus.† So Iíll submit to you that the sin of envy was more than any other the immediate cause of our Lordís death.† And I think thatís remarkable because of the seven deadly sins, itís probably the one thatís the least understood.† In general we understand wrath and lust and greed and the others; but thereís a lot of confusion that surrounds the sin of envy.
††††††††††† Not the least of which is the color it gets assigned.† I mean, weíve all heard of people turning purple with rage or white with fear; theyíre said to be blue if theyíre sad (or if theyíre not breathing); and if theyíre out in the sun for an extended period theyíre likely to turn either brown (if theyíre lucky) or red (if theyíre not).† And these make perfect sense.† But why is it that people are said to turn green with envy? †Whatís up with that?† I did some research; but all of the proposed answers seemed pretty unlikely.† One suggestion was that green is the color of money Ė and it is in the present day United States. The trouble is that the expression is much older Ė from long before there was such a thing as paper money or the United States.† So itís something of a mystery why green is the color associated with envy.† My best guess is that it has something to do with the Irish.† Greenís their color, right?† And the way Iíve got it figured, living as they do in Ireland, a cold, wet, miserable, little island where the contentious inhabitants canít get along with anyone, not even each other, and where they have nothing but potatoes and cabbage to eat, they have good reason to be envious of the rest of the world.† Thatís my theory, anyway; and Iím sticking to it until I hear a better idea.
On a more serious note, envy is often confused with jealousy; that is, people tend to use the word jealous when what they really mean is envious. Theyíre not the same thing.† Properly understood, jealousy is the fear or wariness of being supplanted.† And sometimes itís entirely appropriate to be jealous.† The Lord himself says that he is a jealous God.† It angers him when his people give to idols the honor and worship due to him alone.† Similarly, a husband or wife is supposed to be jealous of their spouseís love and affection.† Jealousy goes wrong when itís overdone, like when a husband wonít even let his wife go out in public for fear that she might speak to another man; or when itís misplaced, as when someone feels that theyíre entitled to something, say an honor or level of respect, that theyíre not . Either way, if youíre jealous, youíre protecting what you perceive to be (rightly or wrongly) your own exclusive turf.
Envy, on the other hand, has to do with what belongs to the other guy.† And itís more than simple greed, which is the desire to acquire ever more, or covetousness, which is the sinful desire to possess what doesnít or shouldnít belong to you. In both of these, the main focus of the sin is on the object of desire, whatever it happens to be. †With envy, while whatís desired plays a part, the main focus is on the person who possesses it.† Itís not just ďI want what you haveĒ, even more important to one who envies is, ďI donít want you to have itĒ.
With this in mind, envy is rightly described as a sense of sadness, anger, or frustration upon seeing someone elseís good fortune.† Itís the resentment you feel when something good happens to another person. And itís not limited to things like money and property; you could also be envious with respect to someone elseís job, their spouse, family, appearance, talents and abilities, recognition and fame, their accomplishments.† But whatever the object of envy, when you think of the person whoís got it the sense of it is: ďYou donít deserve it.† It isnít right that you have it.† Itís not fair.† If there were any justice in the world, that would belong to me; or that bit of good fortune you experienced would have happened to meĒ.
And so we see that envy is what lies behind so much of sibling rivalry, and the fierce competition at the local high school to be known as the most popular guy or girl. Itís that sullen feeling you get when your irritating neighbor, the one whoís always trying to show you up, pulls into his driveway with a classic sports car Ė the kind youíve always admired but would never think to spend the money on; or when a colleague at work gets the promotion you were hoping for; or when someone else edges you out in the contest you worked so hard win.† Around here Iíve noticed the way farmers look at each otherís fields Ė always comparing them to their own.† Is their corn higher?† Are their beans filled out more?† Are there bare spots?† How are the weeds?† Some of this I know is how farmers gage themselves to see how theyíre doing; but some of it is ďHow come he gets all the luck?Ē† And no, pastors are not immune from envy; instead of comparing fields we compare churches and congregations. †Envy is everywhere.† Itís so woven into the fabric of our beings that we hardly notice it.† And part of it is a judgmental spirit of superiority that looks at others and says, ďYou are less worthy of what youíve got than I am. Thatís why I deserve it and you donít.Ē
So closely related to envy that itís really the other side of the same coin is the pleasure you experience upon seeing others lose, fail, or suffer somehow. The Germans have a special word for it. Itís schadenfreude, which literally translates into English as ďbad joyĒ. Itís delight derived from the misfortune of others.† And like I said, itís essentially an extension of envy.† I mean, if seeing someone prosper makes you sad it only makes sense that youíll be happy when they fail.† It may even be that youíre hoping misfortune will befall others Ė especially those of whom you are envious.† Ha! Then theyíll get what they deserve.
And I think this is why wise King Solomon informs us that envy, left unchecked and unrepented, rots the bones.† Itís figurative language, of course; but the idea of it is that the person with envy has a corruption so deep inside that it twists, cripples, and decays the soul. We go from frustration, to resentment, to actually wishing ill on others.† The best illustration of this I can think of for this is from the motion picture Amadeus.† If you havenít seen it, I urge you to.† First because itís a good film; but second because it showcases so well the soul rotting destruction to which envy can lead.† Itís a story of the famous composer Mozart told from the perspective of another senior composer named Salieri.† Salieri is an accomplished composer in his own right; but he recognizes that the up and coming Mozart has a real gift Ė more talent in the tip of his little finger than Salieri will ever have in his whole frame.† And part of the story is that no one else seems to notice just yet.† Most people have yet to appreciate Mozartís genius. Salieri is a good enough musician to understand how vastly superior Mozartís music is to his own.† And it drives him insane with envy, which leads him to deceitful scheming, theft, murder, attempted suicide, and ultimately to reject the very grace of God.
Why? Because in his judgment God has not been fair.† He didnít do things right.† If the Lord had done things properly he would not have wasted that incomparable gift on a flighty scalawag like Mozart; he would have given it to me.† And itís here that the root of envy is revealed. †At its core it is nothing less than blasphemy of the very worst sort.† When we envy, we sit in judgment of God.† We tell him that he isnít running the universe right Ė that we donít trust his plan for this world and for our lives.† When you envy, youíre saying that you could do a better job of distributing Godís gifts to the world (mainly because youíd be getting more of them). With envy, instead of thanking the Lord for the gifts he does give, we curse him for the ones that he didnít give to us and also for those that he gave to whom we believe to be the wrong people. Small wonder, then, that envy makes the list of the seven deadly sins.
And even more reason why we should diligently search it out in our hearts and repent of it. †And receiving again the sure word of forgiveness which Christ our Lord purchased for us with his own blood, letís consider him who suffered so much to bring Godís blessings to us.† The self sacrificial kindness he displayed is the very opposite of envy.† He took upon himself the evil we deserved so that we could have all things Ė all of Godís eternal blessings Ė that we most certainly do not deserve.† He did it, we are told, for the joy that was set before him Ė the joy of seeing us redeemed and made heirs with him of Godís kingdom.† So too we ought to rejoice when good things happen to other people, and be glad of the blessings they receive.† And we ought to commiserate with them in their troubles and misfortunes, shedding sympathetic tears, and doing what is in our power to deliver them, even as Christ delivered us from the fate we so richly deserved.† So doing, we will show ourselves to be children of our heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
May our merciful God and Father therefore give us thankful hearts that are content with the gifts that he in his wisdom gives.† And may he enable us with his grace to show such Christ-like love for one another.† In Jesusí name.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!