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    by Fred Price

A Parable of Envy and Grace
Date Posted: March 8, 2019

Envy was considered so prevalent among the inhabitants of the world – as well as the church – that it was included in a list of purportedly seven “deadly” sins, second only to pride1. (Maybe because they would seem to be so closely related.)

Interestingly enough, this deadly list didn’t include the major “thou shall nots” of the Ten Commandments – idolatry, adultery, murder, etc.; but focused on the more common, everyday issues that tend to trouble family, friends and communities.2 (Which is not to say those composing the list were unconcerned with idolatry, adultery, murder, etc.; but that most churched people were (hopefully) unlikely to commit such offences but were/are frequent victims of pride, envy and the arrogance they breed. Which indeed, if left unchecked, often lead to the more pronounced sins mentioned above.)

Envy has been shown to produce anorexia and bulimia, its core value of self-centeredness leading to feelings of isolation even as it expresses itself in advantage-taking. Those insecurities – real and imagined – leading to gossip, lying, bitterness and yes even adultery, theft and murder. Manifesting itself most when we do what we’re instructed by scripture not to do; coveting a neighbor’s house, an acquaintances husband or wife, their car, children, job, position in the community, etc., etc. (Exodus 20:17) Marveling, however grudgingly, at how easy their lives appear. Other’s success in life causing us to uncomfortably question our own, even as we overlook the amount of hard work that went into the creation of their “luck”; which comes most frequently to those who put themselves in a position to be blessed. That realization escaping many, who instead attempt to bring their rivals down to their level or artificially elevate themselves – by hook or crook – to the level of their competitors. Don’t we all deserve to be successful, no one being better than us? To a point – yes. But when people prepare better and work harder, their results will usually be better. Envy’s consequences often being more disruptive and destructive on the one’s feeling envious as those they’re envious of. Nathan Wilson describing envy as a feeling of dejection, leading to disparagement of others with destructive behavior then being inflicted on any number of people on many levels; failing to uplift or satisfy anyone.3

Paul reminds us that, “The commandments (forbidding)...adultery…murder…stealing…and coveting, …are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Leviticus 19:18) As, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:9,10 Taken a step further, he instructs us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (in their successes); and “mourn with those who mourn.” (in their reversals of fortune.) Romans 12:14 Those directives leaving no room for envy.

Jesus likewise dealt with this issue through a parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard and its owner, who goes out early in the morning to hire day-laborers to work his crop for a pre-determined wage. Evidently needing more help, he went back to the marketplace – where idle men congregated to share gossip or seek work – periodically throughout the day. Finally, pushing to finish the day’s labor, he recruited even more help virtually at the end of the day; promising to pay, “…whatever is right.”

When the day was complete, the vineyard owner instructed his foreman to pay what was owed to the men, “…beginning with the last ones hired and going to the first.” The problem arose – predictably – when those hired for the shorter amounts of time were paid a denarius, the same as those working the full day. Responding to the complaints of “unfairness”, the owner denied doing anything wrong; reminding them that they had willingly, even eagerly agreed to work for the wage they had indeed received. Asking in essence, ‘If I want to be generous and pay everyone, regardless of time spent in the field, the same rate – how is that any of your business? Haven’t I the right to do as I please with my own money? How can you possibly be envious of my generosity?’ (Matthew 20:1-16)

Admittedly, Jesus was using this story to emphasize, here and elsewhere that, “…the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Indicating how his grace levels the field for all who choose to answer his call; no one being entitled to anything. His grace and merciful beneficence being unmerited, undeserved, often unexpected and just as often hard to understand. God blesses all richly, whether they’ve been a Christian all their lives or accept him as their savior moments before death. The only stipulation being that we respond to his offer of salvation and blessing with a loving, appreciative, willing heart.

That any of these men had a job was based solely on the call of the owner who hired them. No one was defrauded; they all got – at least – what they were promised; some more than they expected, others possibly more than they “deserved”. But’s that’s the nature of grace. If God’s only parameters for his grace in salvation are acceptance, repentance and obedience to his will, then who are we to nit-pick God’s decisions on who to save and how to bless?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that even if we are blessed with special gifts, talents, knowledge or faith, but don’t use them to others’ benefit; they won’t be worth much to the kingdom or us. That to refrain from pride, envy and deceitfulness isn’t enough if we fail to be generous. Even giving up all we possess won’t be enough to gain for us a heavenly reward if we do so for the wrong reason; to gain notoriety or under compulsion. The prime motivating factor in a Christian’s desire to fulfill his Savior’s will being love for Christ and love for his fellowman. (See Matthew 22:37-40) That love fostering patience and kindness, leaving no room for envy, boastfulness and pride. Our manners improving as we avoid rudeness, self-centeredness and anger. Our attitudes likewise changing as we avoid dwelling on evil and rejoice in God’s truth.

Love never fails by promoting an outward focus that questions the motives of others less while looking for the best whenever possible. It always perseveres when we live by faith, being inspired by the hope held out to us in scripture of a life redeemed in Christ, and mimic the selfless love of our Savior. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 & 13)

1Compiled in its present form by Pope Gregory 1 in the early 6th century.

2Gluttony, lust, greed, pride, envy, wrath and slothfulness.

3Mr. Wilson is an ordained minister in the Christian Church while presently serving as the director of communications for Christian Theological Seminary.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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