I recently went to Mass at a small mission-style church not far from my apartment. The Mass parts there are sung in Latin and the priest faces away from the congregation. The altar rail is still used for communion and most women veil. I attend this little church every couple of weeks because I find that it offers a peaceful reset when the world gets too noisy. It was at Mass there that I sat minding my own business when I heard Jesus speak clearly in my ear: Are you envious because I am generous?
I needed to hear it.
Every once in awhile we come across the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 where the landowner reprimands his workers for grumbling over what they saw as an unfair wage. In reflecting on this parable I typically remind myself that Jesus does not give the same things to all people, and it’s wrong of me to expect that. Then I let it go from there. But this Sunday, Jesus had a different agenda. He wasn’t letting me get away with an elementary understanding of the message anymore. It was just as if He crouched down right next to me in the pew, put His hand on my cheek, looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Are you envious because I am generous?” He is asking you as well.
In “The Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avila, the saint writes about the seven mansions within the soul. To dwell in each mansion is a step closer to ultimate unity with God, but one must master the rooms of each mansion completely before he is able to move on to the next. Within the first mansion one must spend time in the rooms of self-knowledge and humility. One cannot even venture into the next six mansions of the soul if he does not have an honest understanding and mastery of himself. Only once you are honest with yourself can you begin to see your brokenness and invite God in. Why do I mention this? Because this is where the problem lies: we are not honest with ourselves.
Time and time again I have told myself that God does not give the same gifts to all people. I no longer expect gifts with the same innocence as a little child who thinks every participant receives a prize just for being present. But that knowledge has not stopped me from being envious, or jealous, or begrudging someone else something they have which I do not. I try to tell myself I am not a jealous person, yet only envy causes me to ask, “Why do they have ______ and I don’t?” Only envy causes me to be upset over what someone else is given because I feel that I should have also received it. Accepting that the world is not “fair” is completely different than rejoicing in another’s good fortune. And rejoice we should, every single time without fail.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard illustrates a great truth of the nature of God. He does not give based on the greatness of our merits, but on the greatness of His compassion. Nothing we do can earn his gifts, just as nothing we do can cause Him to withdraw them (excepting at the Final Judgement, and even then it is our own refusal of Love that damns us). Therefore, any gift to any person is an amazing grace. What good does it do me to begrudge another the grace that they have been given? What good does it do anyone to begrudge a gift at all? Any good in the world, no matter who it is given to, is making our world a better place, and for that alone God should always be praised.
Looking at it in this way, one can see how eventually you will find it more difficult, or even wrong, to be jealous or saddened by or question another’s good fortune compared to your own. Our God will never be outdone in generosity, and it seems completely backward indeed to be upset by the display of His compassionate love for His children. Whether it is a material gift someone has been blessed with, a spiritual gift, or a gift in the form of a promotion or big life event, it is a testament to the abundant nature of a God who desires nothing but goodness for His people.
As I sat in Mass reflecting on this, clenching my jaw and trying not to cry there in the fourth pew, I had one last thought: it is our own human tendency to interpret another’s gain as our loss, but truly what I have is not lessened or even affected at all by what someone else has received. This is where I found my peace: despite my sins and mistakes, all of our sins and mistakes, God is eager to shower us with good things – from the most hardened sinner to the saintliest soul. Outrageous? Unreasonable? That’s the extravagant, generous nature of our good, good Father.
For this let us rejoice and be glad.
Written by Melissa Velez