“He got a raise that’s better than mine.” “I deserve more benefits.” “They have an unfair advantage which makes our jobs harder.” “You’re lucky you landed that position [interview] [award] [opportunity] [spouse][family] [golf score].” Sound familiar? Resentments involving status, liberality, ability, esteem – even character – are as old as time.
An odd sting in extending hospitality or altruism – whether on a broad scale or one-on-one – is often the bitter chill from others who compare themselves to the benefactor or recipient. Even accomplished peers with similar breadth of experience in business, education, and hardknocks can bristle at a junior colleague’s integrity or distinction.
Take a peek. A subordinate invites several supervisors to his home for a Christmas party. He earns considerably less than they do, but he and his wife enthusiastically spend weeks planning the menu, cocktails and music. His children dress nicely, help serve, and hang coats. His wife cooks everything, splurges on fresh flowers, and presents each guest a handmade ornament. He even obliges their requests to play some sing-a-long carols on the piano. Several guests comment on what fun it all is, the delicious food, and attractive holiday decor. A few others take note and utter not a word. They don’t sing, either. What’s up with that?
“Are you envious because I am generous?”
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16), the Lord – personified as the vineyard owner – receives complaint from the day’s first-workers about late-hires receiving the same wage as they did. The owner doesn’t apologize for his generosity or affluence – but instead asks them if they’re envious because of it! He throws more fuel on the fire, declaring, “Am I not free to do as I please with my own money?” Wow, right? It’s always confounding that he didn’t instead dock them without any pay for their impertinence and ingratitude. The firstworkers weren’t just envious of others receiving what they did, but of the owner’s incredible beneficence. His virtue exposed their lack of it.
It is evident that some get more – and different – gifts than others. No two journeys or ‘benefit packages’ are alike, temporally or spiritually. In contrast to the renewed push for wealth redistribution now (we called it “communism” back in the day), God’s plan involves lots of inequality – in physical traits, health, prosperity, athleticism, intelligence, and affability – as well as in weaknesses and problems. We take the hand we’re dealt … and we deal with it.
Distress at another’s excellence – especially in virtue – is the worst sort of envy, said the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. “It is the envy of sanctity,” he said, “and Christ – along with many prefigures in salvation history – suffered it repeatedly.” The fallen angels envied their Maker, Satan envied the First Couple’s happiness, Cain envied Abel’s pureheartedness, Saul envied David’s prowess, Herod envied Christ’s moral superiority, even Pilate envied Christ for His burgeoning leadership influence.
Emulating and honoring the Great Benefactor remains the ultimate incentive, however, for sharing every good gift, no matter the earthly cost or sacrifice in human regard.
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.