Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday of the Fourth Week in Lent

3 Kings 3:16-28 / John 2:13-25

Envy and jealousy are terrible sins, capable of twisting the soul and devising the darkest of passions towards our neighbor. Though often confused with simply covetousness, the essence of envy is not in desiring what someone else has, although this is how it is often manifested. Rather, what marks out envy as a specific vice is being aggrieved at the good fortune of others. Indeed, we can see envy most clearly in those persons who would even willingly accept loss or injury to themselves, so long as their rivals joy is diminished or snuffed out.

We see something of the gravity of envy in the famous story of Solomon and the baby. The story is, to be sure, shot through with tragedy. The two women in the story are both harlots, and we may well presume have turned to prostitution out of need from the fact that the two dwelt in one house, likely to save money. They had both been mothers, but there is clearly no sign of the fathers; their children were the result of their unhappy trade. Then there is heartbreaking sadness of the death of one of the children, crushed by its mother's body during the night. Even though we may well judge her free of moral culpability, her own sense of guilt and loss may well have gotten the better of her, and in her grief, she made the terrible exchange of the corpse of her dead child with the live child of her housemate. One would think that, given the lives these women lead, there is nothing especially enviable in either of them.

Yet, before Solomon, in their contest over whose is the child that remains alive, the one who had acted before in grief, and even perhaps out of a desire to be a mother at any cost, now finds her soul twisted into a mockery of love by the sin of envy. In the face of Solomon's terrible decree — Divide, said he, the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. — the woman whose child had died declares that she would rather the living child be killed than that her housemate should remain a mother: Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. It is worth more to her that her companion in life and in profession should have the grief of losing a child, it is worth more to her even that an innocent child should be cut in two with a sword, than that someone close to her should continue in the joy of motherhood while she herself must experience the grief not only of her own child's death, but of knowing her own connection, even if not responsibility, for her loss. Whatever might lead to our sympathy for this woman, we can see that her envy has turned her into a moral monster.

However, it is for this very reason, the moral ugliness of envy, that many people find the demands of God puzzling. When Jesus drives out from the temple them that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money ... the sheep also and the oxen, and the money of the changers He poured out, and the tables He overthrew, it is because, as God, he will not only be loved above all, but also not just in any way. For Jesus, the money changers and sellers of animals have set up a barrier between his people and their coming to God through the sacrifices he himself had decreed long ago to Moses on Sinai. Even so, why should God be angry with those who have tried to find their own best way to serve him. Why would he rather the animals and money changers be cast out, and with them the opportunity of those who have travelled to Jerusalem to offer the very sacrifice God himself has decreed, than that he might allow his people to manage in the way that seems best to them? Likewise, why does Jesus not trust Himself unto those many people in Jerusalem who, seeing His signs which He did, came to believe in His name? That He knew what was in man, even the waywardness of man's heart, seems a hard reason to deprive these new, if misguided, believers of his presence. Is their joy of coming to belief in his name simply an acceptable loss because it is not joy on the terms which Jesus demands?

To understand why God is rightly called jealous, we need to recall that God is not simply one being among many, not merely the first or most powerful of many entities populating the universe. If that were the case, we might rightly object that his views, his goals for the universe, his demands for how we come to happiness, are unjust impositions upon us. However, when we recall that he is the I AM, the one who is, from whom all things flow, not merely a being, but Being Itself, in which everything else is only a participation, an image.

This means that when God makes demands of us, when he insists on his joy, it is never competitive with ours. To be created by God, and to be called out of that creation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to share in God's divine live, means that the joy that is God just is our joy. When God refuses anything of us, when he proposes to us means we might rather bypass, and even when his judgments come to us as more terrible than that of Solomon's, it is always an invitation to what will in truth make us happy, what in truth answers what we had been seeking in the first place. To be created by God and born to eternal life in baptism, made brothers of Jesus Christ and sons of the Father by the power of the Spirit, is not only what God wants of us, but even in our rebellion, it is what we are seeking as well. To demand this joy apart from the way God presents it to us is, in fact, to reject the very joy for which we long. It is to prefer the baby be split in two, and neither we nor God receive the joy of our presence than to die to our dark desires and be brought, happy and whole, into the Kingdom.

Mercifully hear our supplication, we beseech Thee, O Lord: and to those whom Thou givest the desire to pray, grant the help of Thy protection.


love the girls said...

I appreciate your attempt at averting scandal.

I'm so sorry I must kill you mother, but I need the inheritance.

btw, I liked your adultery example.

love the girls said...

or let me rephrase that:

I'm so sorry mother that I must drug you to simulate death and put you in a coffin and bury you alive so others think you are dead, but I need the inheritance.

Your death you see is accidental, and just an unfortunate consequence.