read Mark 15. With just a few days left to go until Christmas, many of us are still wondering why we’re not leaping for joy with the ten lords, twirling our five golden rings. Is it because we’re Scrooge? Or are there some little thieves at work in our hearts, quietly robbing us of our joy? Today the chapter at hand leads us to consider the master thief known as envy.
We tend to minimize the problem of envy. Every now and then the Bible will make a list of Really Bad Things. We hone in on the Big Bad Ugly Obvious sins – like drunkenness, gluttony, adultery or orgies. Our eyes skim over envy. But envy is almost always on those lists. Why? Doesn’t everyone feel a little jealous every now and then? Doesn’t envy just mean you’re alive? Who could live without an occasional twinge of envy? Is it really so bad?
Envy is the enemy of joy. You can’t be content if envy is eating you alive. I’m not talking about wanting your legitimate needs to be filled. There’s a difference between need and envy. Need is requirement we take to God and others. Envy is a bitter poison with the power to destroy us. If you want what someone else has, you can never enjoy what you have. If your eyes are on someone else’s blessings, you will literally be blind to whatever God is trying to do in your life, through your circumstances. Envy, therefore, is a form of pride. It’s a way of saying that we know what God should give us, better than God does. As always, such pride is delusional. We don’t know. We’re not God. God is good. He loves us. He gives good things to his children. His timing is different than ours. His perspective is different than ours. He works “all things” together for good for those who love Him.
Reminding ourselves that God is sovereign is where it’s easy to turn into Scrooge. Sometimes it works. But often we can tell ourselves to count our blessings, to trust God, and to not be envious until we’re blue in the face. Killing envy all by ourselves is doomed. We might manage to drive our envy a little deeper, but it will remain there, lurking, ready to sabotage our joy when we least expect it, unless we discover how to kill it dead. Clearly, it’s time to for some supernatural help. Luckily, we have Mark 15.
Envy runs like a varicose vein through this moving, hard to read, chapter in which Jesus is brutally murdered. The religious leaders arrested Jesus “out of envy.” v.10. Just sit with that for a moment. Jesus was crucified because of envy. Envy is not a small problem. It caused murder. It caused the murder of an innocent man. It caused the murder of God.
There is a strange irony at work here that lies at the heart of all envy; the people were envious of the wrong thing. Here’s what I mean. The leaders were envious of Jesus. But why? Jesus did not come to earth in His full glory. Only during the transfiguration did He stand on earth as He could have – shiny and bright. He didn’t come wearing a crown. He didn’t come with legions of angels to minister to His every need; the only time we hear about the angels ministering to Him is after He fasted in the desert and withstood the devil’s temptations. Instead, Jesus was born as a defenseless naked baby into a poor family. He was wrapped in rags. He took his first breath among animals. He grew up a carpenter’s son. He walked instead of flew. He was just another human being.
And that’s the problem with envy. Why are we envious even for a moment of another human being? We all breathe the same fallen air. We all have parents suffering from the same problem of selfishness. We all have relationships with imperfect people. We are all slaves of sin, buffeted this way and that by our relentless senseless desires. We are all, as James Joyce put it: creatures “driven and derided by vanity.” We all grow dissatisfied with our achievements, possessions and relationships the moment we secure them. We all want what we don’t have. We should we waste even a second being jealous of anyone else?
We shouldn’t, but it’s easier said than done. We are slaves to our envy, just like the crowds in this chapter. And like the crowds, not only is our envy misguided, it causes us to act in ways that don’t make any sense. Here, for instance, the crowds beg Pilate to release Barabbas, a murderer, instead of Jesus. They wanted a murderer out on the streets instead of an innocent man who healed their diseases. Then the very people Jesus healed shouted at him in mockery. None of this makes sense. How is it possible that the same crowds that cheered his entry into Jerusalem are now taunting him? How do humans turn like that?
Envy blinds us. It dehumanizes the person of whom we are jealous. We no longer see them as fellow servants of God. We see them as objects – as something standing between us and what we want. Other people become just something reminding of us of the disparity between who we are, and who we think we ought to be. People who have what we want can put us in a blind rage – with blindness being the key component. Envy means we are incapable of loving other people. But even if we kill the person of whom we are envious, we discover we’re no better off than we were before. We still don’t have what we want – and now we have guilt on top of everything else. So how can we heal ourselves of this blindness?
Luckily for us, there is another strain running through this chapter, one that stands in direct opposition to envy: we see a calm sense of God’s purpose. Jesus doesn’t feel the need to explain himself. He doesn’t yell about the crowds’ insanity. He doesn’t cry out when he is whipped. He doesn’t scream at the mocking people things like: ‘of course I could save myself, you idiots – I’m doing this for you!’ When a Roman centurion “saw how he had died, he exclaimed, ‘This man truly was the Son of God!’” v. 39.
Jesus truly was God’s Son. Jesus’ reaction, in its own way, made as little sense as that caused by envy. Jesus didn’t let the envy of the people destroy His love for them. God has a love for us irrespective of our behavior. If envy means we can’t love the person of whom we’re envious; the cross means Jesus loves us even in the very moment that we don’t love Him.
This kind of calm purposeful love from God on the cross provides the solution for envy. Through the cross, God makes His glory available to us. Jesus offers us the crown He chose not to wear. Jesus let his robe be stripped from Him, to clothe us with His righteousness. Jesus died alone and rejected in order to invite us into his family. There is a supernatural sense in which God meets all our needs, right now. He offers to be friend, sibling, parent and lover to the lonely. He offers us the joy of a relationship with Him.
But our enemy wants to suck the joy from our lives by focusing our eyes on other people instead of on God. Our enemy is a liar. We don’t need to live in envy. Instead, we can ask for God’s help. If you feel a lack of joy today, and you don’t know why, ask God to show you what’s eating you up. If you catch yourself doing things that don’t make sense, ask God what is controlling you. If you find yourself wishing you had someone else’s house, car, children or spouse – tell God you’re sorry and that you don’t want to be that way.
God already knows how you feel. Chances are, the other people in your life already know, too. We can see envy on the faces of other people. Our eyes are the windows to our soul. We know when people say, “Congratulations” with their lips, but their hearts are far from us. We can sense it. God can, too. If we let God cleanse us, we can finally start to see.
If we do, we discover that it can be Christmas every day. With our hearts overflowing, we can love other humans the way God loves us – with a supernatural love based not on their actions, but on the simple fact that they are. Envy withers in the face of the golden ring with which God woos each of us – the ring of His eternal love. Slip it on. No one can ever take it off. It was sealed with dying love.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on December 21, 2011