The Big Green Monster (Envy)

MP3 Audio:  WS330333_Dn-Joseph_The-Big-Green-Monster.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

Today we speak of a big green monster named “Envy”.  It’s a deadly monster that has devoured many a soul. First thing we need to realize about envy is that it’s not just an aspect of our culture, it’s not just something that kids do or something that adults do, but it is a SIN. Envy is something that is condemned multiple times in Scripture. Second thing we need to realize is that it’s a deadly sin. I’m not sure if there’s any other kind of sin, but I just want to specify here – envy is a DEADLY sin.

Now, it’s similar to greed, but it’s not exactly the same. Envy and greed both say, “There’s this thing that I lust after, this thing that I want, this thing that I have to have, and I want it NOW!” But greed stops there. And we all know that greed is a bad thing, right?

Envy is just a little different. You see, for greed to be involved, you don’t need another person. You can simply look at a toy that you really want to have; you can look at a pile of gold that you really want to belong to you; you can look at an outfit that you think is just the most beautiful thing in the whole world, and looking at these things, you can have greed. But you cannot have envy. To have envy, you need another person involved.

Here’s how envy works: You have two brothers, or you have two sisters, and they’re getting along just fine. And then one of them gets something that the other does not have. Prior to that point, neither one of them had it. Prior to that point, both of them were just fine. But “BECAUSE that other person got it, and I didn’t, now I want it.” That’s envy.

It’s the type of greed that says, “[You] better not give my brother any more than you gave me; you better not give my sister anything that I don’t get.” That is envy. And it’s a very deadly type of greed because it involves another person, and it is the opposite of love.

Think about how envy is the opposite of love. Well, if you love your brother, if you love your sister, then anytime that something good happens to them, you’re going to rejoice. You’re going to be happy about it. Anytime something difficult, any time something bad happens to them, you’re going to be upset about it. Envy turns this on its head. A person that is grasped in the clutches of this green monster, they do just the opposite. They see something good happen to their brother or to their sister and they’re not rejoicing; they’re not happy. Their heart shrivels up, and their face shrivels up, and their mouth shrivels up, and you can almost see the fangs start to poke down from their teeth as they say, “Well, they got it; I deserve it too. I want that too. That should be mine!”

That’s not love – that’s the opposite of love. It’s that same type of spirit that rejoices when evil comes to a brother or to a sister. “Aha! That bad thing happened to you, but it didn’t happen to me. Ha ha ha.” That’s that same spirit of envy, of selfishness, of desiring good for oneself but evil for one’s brother, of not being happy when something good happens to your brother or your sister, but desiring it for yourself.

How do we see envy manifest itself in real life?  Well, we see it manifest itself with adults in the cliché that you’ve heard, “Keeping up with the Joneses.”  You’re in America, your closet is full of plenty of clean outfits for you to wear, but then that friend of yours goes to the mall and they get something that’s just really nice, really new, and you think, “Well, I don’t have one of those. I need to go and get that.” Somebody gets a new shotgun or a new pickup truck and you think, “Well, my car works fine and I’ve already got a gun, but I don’t have that brand, and I think I need to go get the same thing so that I have the same thing they do.”

[And for the kids,] a good friend of yours gets a really beautiful expensive doll or expensive dinosaur toy – something like that – and you may have had your room just full of dolls and full of toys, all that you need to play with all day long. But you don’t have THAT doll; you don’t have THAT toy.  And [whining] “I want that one!” Sometimes the adults don’t sound too much better, by the way . . . “I want that one!”

I think we’re all well acquainted with envy; we all know how ugly it can become. We even go into debt as a society because we’re determined to “Keep up with the Joneses.” We see the way people live on television shows. We see the way people live down the street. We see the way other family members live and we think, “Well, I deserve that same standard of living. I don’t care if I go into debt-slavery for the rest of my life; I’m going to make sure I’m driving the same car as everybody else, and I’m wearing the same clothes as everybody else, and eating at the same nice restaurants, because I deserve it.”

“I deserve it” has led many people into sin, many people into envy, many people into debt, many people ultimately into slavery.

So we know what envy looks like. We’ve experienced it, we’ve fought against it, and we’ve felt a revulsion towards it when we see it in others. How do we guard against it? How do we stop feeding the green monster?

It’s amazing how many commands in Scripture there are thatwhen you follow themwhen you obey them, they actually help you obey the other ones because they’re all linked; they all work together. Think of that passage in Romans where God says, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” Stay out of debt. Love-debt is fine, but that’s a different type. Stay out of money debt. Just right there, if we said, “Look, I don’t care how much I want those clothes, how much I want that nice dinner at a restaurant, how much I want that new shotgun or that new pickup truck.” If we just said, “I’m not going to spend money if I don’t have it; I’m not going into debt,” how much of the “keeping up with the Joneses” would stop right there? Because you’d say, “I only have this much money, I have this many bills – electric, food, rent – I don’t have enough money left over for that new pickup truck or shotgun or hundred-dollar night out at the steakhouse.”  A lot of “keeping up with the Joneses” would disappear right there.

[Another strategy is] just simply cultivating a spirit of humility, simply being aware and mindful of the fact that Scripture calls us to love our brothers. The next time you see a friend blessed financially, or blessed relationally, or blessed with their health, or blessed in any other way, REJOICE! Praise God! Thank God!

Some people are in the habit of praying, but their prayers are nothing more than a list of complaints. “Lord, I want this to be better, and this to be better, and please take away this and take away that, put a stop to this and put a stop to that, heal me of this and heal me of that.” [And] those are all good requests.

How much of our prayers are also gratitude? “Thank you, Lord, that my aunt was just blessed financially. Thank you, Lord, that my cousin just had this good thing happen with her health. Thank you, Lord, for my friend down the street, and the fact that he was blessed, and able to get that new pickup truck and that new shotgun. Thank you, Lord; that person was so nice that they gave my older sister this really cool necklace, this really nice doll.” Get into the habit of having gratitude, of opening your mouth in prayer, praising God, thanking Him – not just for the things He’s done for you – but get into the habit of thanking Him for the gifts that other people get.

See, that’s the opposite of envy. Whenever you want to stop a particular sin, you don’t just stop it – you start doing the opposite. And the opposite of envy is to give thanks vocally for the good that happens to other people. When somebody else gets a good gift, when somebody else has good fortune, when somebody else has “good luck” or whatever you want to call it, when good things happen to other people, see them NOT just as luck, but see them as blessings from God and give God thanks for those things.

But there’s another aspect of envy that we often do not see as envy. And even as we try to teach and guard against it, it is easy for parents to fall into the trap of feeding envy with their own children. And that’s something that we need to identify, it’s something that we need to do away with. And the Gospel for today, the parable for today from the mouth of Jesus, is perfect as an antidote against this sort of envy that we are in such danger of actually inculcating into our children.

To put it in today’s terms, I want you to imagine that you agree with somebody to work for five dollars an hour. And you work hard! It’s back-breaking hard work, you work straight through the heat of the day, and you’re out there in the fields, bent over, lifting heavy things from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening – twelve hard hours of labor.  And you’ve been promised five dollars an hour for this hard work. So at the end of this long day, your day’s wages will be sixty dollars.

At 5:00 PM, the guy that hired you sees somebody that’s out of work. He needs to feed his family too, he’s sitting around because nobody has hired him, and he [the boss] says, “Look, get out there, help out, let me see you doing some hard work, help me in the field, and I’ll pay you.” So he gets out there and he’s working right beside you and he puts in one good hour. He works hard, but not for twelve hours. He works hard for one hour. And he gets the same sixty dollars. That means you just got paid five dollars an hour; this other guy just got paid sixty dollars an hour for the same work. What’s the first response that comes to mind? “That’s not fair!” How often have you heard a child speak these words?  All too often it’s not snuffed out in childhood, and we even hear that from the mouths of adults. “That’s not fair.”

And I love what Jesus says in this parable. He says, “Friend, I do thee no wrong.” He doesn’t dance around it. He doesn’t make any excuses. He admits it. “Yep, I paid this guy sixty dollars an hour, and I just paid you five dollars an hour. I did you no wrong. What I did is fair. What I did is right. What I did is just.” He says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” In some translations it actually uses the word “just”, which is the word “fair”.  He says, “Is it not JUST that I do what I will with my own? It’s FAIR that I do this.” If anybody wants to tell you that this story is not fair, Jesus says in Scripture that it IS fair.

The reason we don’t think it’s fair is because we have hearts that are inclined towards envy. You say, “How could this be envy? Isn’t everybody supposed to be treated the same?” Ahhh, there you go. This idea that each person needs to be treated the same is just a softened way – it’s a culturally-acceptable way – of packaging envy and trying to make it look good. Now, we may not ever stand up in front of our children and say, “I encourage you to be envious. I want you to grow up to have lots of envy in your heart my son, my daughter.” We don’t do that. But how often, in family after family after family, have you seen one kid complaining because there were seventeen sprinkles on his cupcake but his sister got twenty two? And so you’re getting these little sprinkles . . . “Okay, here’s five more sprinkles – okay, now you’re even.” “His piece of cake is bigger than mine!” “I only got ten dollars in my birthday card and my cousin got twenty five.” Does this sound familiar? Have you ever heard a child speak this way, saying, “That’s not fair,” because something that they got is less than what their brother or sister or cousin got? That’s envy.

I can hear Jesus, the good Parent, saying the same thing: “My child, I did you no wrong.” “I told you that you were going to be getting ten dollars for your birthday. Are you saying that I owed you twenty five? Are you saying that you deserve more? Should you not be rejoicing that – out of my generosity – your brother whom you say you love has received more? That your cousin whom you love has received more?” 

Whenever a brother or sister or cousin or neighbor kid receives something really wonderful, and we feel as parents that we have to scramble around to make sure that every kid in our whole family got exactly the same treatment, we are teaching them that envy is justice. We’re teaching them that greed is good.

Right in our faces, Jesus says, “No, it’s my money. I’m the one doing the hiring. And if I want to pay this person five dollars an hour, and this person sixty dollars and hour, that is fair. The work is worth five dollars an hour. If I promise you that I will pay it and then I only give you three dollars an hour, then I have cheated you. That’s not fair. But we agreed on five. You worked and I paid you five. That’s fair. That’s what we’ve agreed on.  If I choose to be generous to this person over here – and yeah, I know they only did one hour of work, and I paid them five dollars for that – but I went ahead and gave them another fifty five on top of that because I know his wife and his kids need to eat, and I chose to be generous here. Is that being unfair to you? Because I’m generous to this man here, am I suddenly obligated to be equally generous to you? No! It is lawful for me to do what I will with mine own.”

Now, as we’re going down the straight-and-narrow path, we know it’s possible to fall off into the gutter. And it’s good to stay out of the gutter. But so often, in trying to run away from one sin, what do we do? We cross too far over the road and we end up in the other gutter. There’s always a gutter on the other side. Now, what are we in danger of if we treat our children differently, if we don’t make sure that they all get the same amount of money, the same amount of gifts, the same amount of everything? Well, we run the danger of showing favoritism. Well, that would be wrong too, for a different reason. But that would be wrong too. It would be wrong to intentionally always put eighty percent of your resources and gifts into this one child because you love them more and you care about them more, and then the rest of your children just to kind of throw the crumbs at them. That’s not what a loving parent does. That’s not how a parent properly raises up and nurtures their children. That’s not Godly. And so it is right that we turn our backs on that sin, and we try to get away from it. But we have so turned away from it that we’ve fallen in the ditch on the other side of the straight-and-narrow path.

The ditch on the other side of the straight-and-narrow path is the ditch of envy, where we teach our kids that “you have a right to the same thing that everybody else gets. If somebody else gets a hundred dollars, you have a right to a hundred dollars. If somebody else gets a trip, then you deserve a trip. If somebody else gets a present, well, it’s only fair, it’s only right, it’s only just that you get the same present.” You’re training them up in envy and greed. And you’re teaching them the opposite of love. You’re not teaching them to rejoice in good gifts that come to their brothers and sisters.

So what is the straight-and-narrow path in the middle? How do you keep from showing favoritism, and at the same time how do you keep from teaching your kids envy? The answer is LOVE! You should not take any thought whatsoever towards trying to make sure that all of your children get all of the same stuff, all the same money. But you should go to a great amount of effort to make sure that they all receive an equal amount of love. That takes work.

You see, it’s actually easy – if you’re a lazy parentit’s easy to make sure they all get the same amount of money, the same amount of sprinkles on their cupcakes, the same amount of outings, the same amount of treats, the same amount of desserts. That’s actually easy.

What’s harder is to get to know your child, to pray for your child, and to look at your child’s personality and say, “What do they need to grow closer to Christ? What is going to benefit them? What is going to help them grow spiritually?”

And it’s not just little children; it’s adult children. Do you need to treat all adult children the same way? No! If you have one child that lives all alone and he has a really good, well-paying job, and then you have another child who’s also an adult, they’re a single parent, they have five kids that are barely scraping to get by – if you make a gift of a thousand dollars to that child, to that family, are you obligated to give a thousand dollars to the guy that’s living alone and is making money hand over fist? No, you’re not.

Is it because you love them differently? No, it’s because they’re different people in different situations. This person over here needs financial help. This person over here might do better with a gift of an Orthodox Study Bible.

Now, that’s not to say it’s wrong if you happen to spend the same amount of money on two different kids. If you happen to give the same gifts to two different kids, that’s not necessarily wrong, but it should not be automatic. Ages can be different. Some children may be able to handle certain challenges that you place upon them, whereas other children are not ready for that yet. Certain children may be spiritually ready to handle certain valuable gifts, whereas with another child you may look at them and say, “At this time, if I give them this particular gift, it’s going to lead them off into materialism. It’s not going to help them, it’s not going to be good for them.”

And part of this whole training is simply to teach our children from the Word of God. How often have we ever sat down with our kids and just read them this passage from the Gospel of Matthew? The next time your kid gets something less than another kid gets, and your kid’s response is, “Well, that’s not fair! He got more than I got!”, our response should be to sit down with the Bible, open up to the Gospel of Matthew, and read this parable, and say, “Well, Jesus says that it is fair. Jesus says here that there is no requirement for everybody to get absolutely equal treatment.”

We’re not slaves to treat everybody identically. We also should not be arbitrary or show favoritism. What we should do is to have an equal love for each one of our kids, for each one of our neighbors, for each one of our family members. And with each child, and also with each adult, say, “Okay, what is going to be good for you? What is going to be good for you? What is going to be helpful for this person over here? Well, what is going to be helpful for this other person over here?”, realizing that the answer to each question is going to be very different.

There may be some people in your lifewhom it would be good and beneficial for you and themfor you to just write a check for five hundred dollars and hand it to them, because they need that help, and you are confident that it is going to go towards a good use.

There may be other people who you would damage spiritually if you gave them a penny, and the best thing you can do for them is to give them a prayer and a card. Write them a letter. Give them the gift of your time. Go spend time with them, drinking coffee at their house, mowing their lawn, helping them with something they need help with. But don’t give them any money.

If you help one family member in a big way, never feel any guilt or compunction that you’re now obligated to spend the same amount of time and the same amount of money to equally help other family members, or other neighbors, or other friends in the same way.  You do not have an infinite amount of money. You do not have an infinite amount of time. And the people you deal with do not have all the same needs. What one person needs, another person may already have fulfilled, but they may have different needs. This takes work, it takes love, it takes getting to know people on a personal level, it takes prayer, and it takes humility on our own part not to salve our own consciences by saying, “Well, I gave a hundred dollars to this kid for Christmas, so I’m going to give a hundred dollars to every other kid for Christmas.”  Or, “I went and I helped this kid do this, so I’m going to help them all do that. I sent this one on a trip, so I’m going to send them all on a trip. I gave this one kid a doll, so I’m going to make sure that all the girls get dolls. And however much I spent on that doll, I’m going to spend the same amount of money on the boys because we’ve got to have everything the same.” We need to get rid of that mentality altogether. Throw it out the window. Throw it out the window entirely.

In Scripture, we even read about cases where the oldest son in a family would receive a double inheritance. And nowhere in Scripture do you find a hint of anything saying that was unfair. You see, the idea at that time in that culture was: If you’re the oldest son, you get twice the inheritance. But you also get twice the responsibility. For if you’re the oldest son, it’s your job to take care of mom and dad when they get older. Am I saying that our culture today needs that specific way of doing things? Not necessarily. My point is, even in biblical times, not everybody got the same inheritance; not everybody got the same treatment. Some people receive more responsibility as they are able. Some receive less, simply because they’re not able. Some receive more financial blessings, because they have the God-given capability of handling it. Other people are given less in the way of finances, simply because God knows this person will be helped spiritually more by being poor, than they will be helped by having a million dollars in their bank account.

Our goal needs to be holiness. Our goal needs to be helping people on their path spiritually. We need to think more about their souls than we think about treating everybody the same. And if our goal is their spiritual growth and their spiritual benefit, then we will escape this green monster of envy.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 20:1-16. Bookmark the permalink.

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