It’s Friday, March 13. We’ve nearly made it through our second full week of Lent together! My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing today’s scripture reading, reflection and prayer with you.
Theme: Envy will destroy us and others
Scripture: Genesis 37:3–4,12–28
There’s no getting around it. Throughout all three scripture passages for today, we are being asked to look inward and root out any seeds of envy in our hearts and lives.
All three scripture passages deal with stories of people who allowed a stronghold of envy to fester in their hearts, compounding into an avalanche of worsening sin.
Envy is defined as a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions.
To covet is defined as having an excessive or wrongful desire. In biblical terms, this would mean to fervently want something for yourself that God has given to someone else or allowed them to have.
It was the ugly sin of envy that led Joseph’s brothers to hate him, because of the way their father favored him more than his other children. This hatred then gave birth to a murder plot, and finally to engage in human trafficking – his brothers sold Joseph into foreign slavery where anything could have happened to him.
In today’s New Testament reading, Jesus’s parable in Matthew describes a wealthy landowner whose renters were so envious of his wealth and prosperity that they plotted to violently steal it, finally murdering his son. This story is a metaphor for Jesus coming to humankind as a messenger of God, and being murdered by the people He had come to save.
The final of the 10 commandments that God gave His Hebrew people in Exodus chapter 20 is the instruction not to covet their neighbor’s house, wife, animal or anything else.
The Message puts it this way: “No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.”
When we allow seeds of envy to take root in us, they send up shoots of dissatisfaction, self-pity, and resentment of the blessings that others receive.
Sometimes, we may not even realize we are harboring envy. It can masquerade as false humility that demands others live the same we do.
“Why does someone need that much? Who needs a house that big or a car that costly?” we might ask. “It’s excessive.”
Remember, it was Judas, in John chapter 12, who complained when Mary poured a fortune’s worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet to display her gratitude that he had resurrected of her brother Lazarus. In verse 5, Judas whined, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
It’s true that in this case, Judas criticized generosity and gratitude to God, not an excessive, self-indulgent lifestyle. He put his complaint this way to sound virtuous and generous. But the next verse clarifies the envy hidden in his heart: “Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to take from what was put into it.”
It wasn’t about the poor at all. That was just a pretty and virtuous varnish to disguise his greed and envy.
Who are we to judge the blessings that others have received, and whether they deserve or need them? It’s for God alone to understand His ways, why some have more than others, and what He plans to do through their circumstances.
For as Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
He also said, in Matthew 7, “Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.”
The Message puts it this way, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
While most of us do not go as far as Judas—stealing physical property to alleviate our greed—envy can steal from us. Envy steals our contentment and gratitude. We also miss the opportunity to authentically celebrate with others how God has chosen to bless them.
We might think, “I’m not envious. I’m content with my material possessions.” But we may need to watch out for other hidden forms of envy. We might envy someone else’s relationship with their partner, parents or children. We can envy someone else’s health, job or career success. We can envy someone’s personality or talents. It’s possible to even envy someone else’s relationship with God, or the way He chooses to speak to them.
Envy makes us unhappy, restless, and discontent. Gratitude for what God has given us, and for what God has given others, fills us with peace and contentment.
Is gratitude easy? Not necessarily. We might have to fight for it. Is it OK to desire anything at all that we don’t yet have?
Coveting is defined as “excessive or wrongful desire”, not as simply desire.
God seems to say that having desires that are surrendered to His will are fine.
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
When we set God Himself as our greatest desire, then we idolize nothing else above Him. When God is our first desire, He can align the rest of our desires with His, and so sometimes He may see fit to fulfill our godly desires.
- Is there any blessing someone else has received that I envy? Ask for God’s forgiveness now.
- Have I ever lied to myself, to others, or to God by disguising my envy as virtue? Ask for God’s forgiveness now.
- More than anything else – more than a house, a job, a relationship, a skill or talent, a success, financial freedom, or health – do I want God? If not, repent for whatever idol has replaced God, and ask for His help to make Him your first desire, as well as to realign all your other desires with His heart.
Giver of all good things,
We come to You with a sacrifice of our thanks for everything You have, in Your wisdom and perfect goodness, given to us. It is not for us to judge whether You have given us enough, or given someone else too much. We leave that to Your wisdom, mercy and justice. We choose to celebrate the good gifts You have given others, without questioning You or secretly believing it should have been ours.
We need Your Holy Spirit to uncover hidden seeds and roots of envy in us, which can hide even from our own awareness.
As David wrote in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the way everlasting.
We do not have the power within ourselves to achieve victory over envy. Only You can do that in us. Please, do it. We entrust You with our heart, and pray that You continue to realign our desires with Yours. Above all else, help us to desire You.
We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.