March 28, 2021

Envy

Preacher:
Passage: Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11, Mark 15:1-15

In high school I had to study Shakespeare. I studied, Henry IV part one, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth.

Watching a Shakespearian play is a very different experience than watching a movie today. Shakespearian plays are driven by clever dialogue and character development, while many movies today are about special effects and action.

Star Wars made millions and millions of dollars, and I love Star Wars, but it made millions on its special effects, and cheezy dialogue. You know a movie has dramatic issues when the some of most interesting characters are droids named C3PIO and R2D2, and the other is Wookie who doesn’t speak but just kind of screams.

In contract Shakespeare’s greatest works are all about tragic characters, those being: Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet and Othello.

Each of them has a fatal flaw. Macbeth’s is ambition. King Lear’s is pride. Hamlet’s is indecision and Othello’s is envy.

Envy, one of the seven deadly sins is Othello’s downfall. Othello is a Moorish general in the Venetian Army. The play notes his skin is darker. He has married the beautiful Desdemona who is rich, white, much younger, and he has married her against the wishes of her father. And then Othello is manipulated by Iago, his junior officer who is angry at Othello for not promoting him, and because he is jealous of Othello, and maybe for reasons of race. But he doesn’t let on his real feelings for Othello. Instead, he preys on Othello’s flaw. Othello is jealous. Iago eventually convinces Othello that Desdemona is not faithful, and in a jealous rage he kills her and eventually himself.

Of what are you envious? Of whom are you envious?

In my later years, I am beginning to see that Envy is not only one of the more destructive qualities in the human psyche it may even undergird many of our sins and flaws.

It is so basic to the human psyche. You see the primary way we learn is to imitate. We copy what others do, in part because it seems our brain is hard-wired to emulate and admire and copy those in our lives who are influential and even those who are not that influential.

Maybe Freud talked about Repression of desire as the primary moving force in the mind and the greatest source of anxiety

Some psychoanalysts talk about the fear of death as the primary moving force and the greatest source of anxiety.

But there are days when I wonder if what really drives humans and creates the most anxiety is envy.

The desire not only to be like others, but to have what others have, and to be even greater than others.

There is even a commandment about it. Thou shalt not covet.

And some say it is the commandment that undergirds the other commandments to do with relationships.

If you do not envy, then you probably won’t kill, or steal, or bear false witness or commit adultery.

William Barclay talked about envy in his daily study commentary in this way:

…there is the envy which is essentially a grudging thing. It looks at a fine person, and is not so much moved to aspire to that fineness, as to resent it. It is the most warped and twisted of human emotions.... a mean word…The essence of it is that it does not describe the spirit which desires, nobly or ignobly, to have what someone else has; it describes the spirit which grudges the fact that the other person has these things at all. It does not so much want the things for itself; it merely wants to take them from the other.

Envy is a dark and dangerous emotion, more subtle than what we realize. It is easy for us sometime to identify, joy or gladness, or anger, but I think envy goes more unnoticed. And yet it is a driving force behind capitalism and consumerism and is the source of much of our sin, and the way we hurt others.

It drives a lot of criticism and attacks on others. It stokes prejudice and racism.

And according to scripture it is the reason that the Chief Priests handed over Jesus to Pilate.

When Pilate asked the crowds who he should release at the Passover, he says: Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews? (speaking about Jesus) and then in

Mark 15:10 it reads that Pilate knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

The Greek word is Phthonos. I’ll spell it for you in English. P H T H O N O S

Phthonos was the Greek God of jealousy and envy.

And I want you to understand of all the things we learn about Jesus this week, that one of the driving forces behind Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture and execution was human envy.

Last week, I used the word “apocalyptic” and mentioned that it means unveiling. I talked about how the apocalypse or difficult times unveils things, and specifically I talked about the misuse of power.

Holy Week is like one big apocalyptic event because it too is an unveiling…. And unveiling of all kinds of things.

You have the unveiling of the disciples and the betrayal of Peter and their running away when the chips are down.

You have the unveiling of the cruelty of the Religious and Political machine that crushed little people under their feet. You have the unveiling of the justice system. You have the unveiling of the temple system of sacrifice that sucked up to the rich and powerful and kept the poor and ordinary from God.

The cross is also the unveiling of the true nature of Christ or the Messiah and what the Messiah is all about, suffering, service, forgiveness and love.

You even have a larger unveiling in the whole drama of salvation, that Christ is the central point in the drama of salvation, and there are clues when the skies are darkened and when the veil of the temple is rent in two.

Christ is the new temple… the new place of God and you can have a relationship with him.

All this is being unveiled this week, but I want to turn back for a moment to envy. What is unveiled today is that Envy is the direct cause of Jesus being turned over to be tortured and executed

This envy has been building for a while.

The Gospel of Mark cites numerous instances:

The crowds that gather around Jesus.

The people who went away and proclaimed how much Jesus had done for them.

Herod had taken note of Jesus’ name.

People heard of Jesus and brought sick people to him.

Mark writes in his gospel that Jesus tried to go to houses anonymously but he could not be hid.

And then as he came into Jerusalem a crowd gathered and praised him.

People were astonished by his teaching. A huge crowd heard him gladly.

And in Mark’s gospel and in other gospels you see this growing confrontation and opposition. Sometimes it was the Pharisees, sometimes it was the scribes and the Pharisees. Sometimes it was a lawyer, sometimes it was the chief priests and leaders of the Jews.

The tried to trap Jesus. They tried to make him misspeak. They tried to make him look bad. They accused him. They eventually arrested him, set up false witnesses.

And behind it all was envy.

I don’t know about you precisely, but I expect that a lot of you grew up in a different time when we didn’t have so much, and it was pretty easy to always want what somebody else had.

If somebody had a bike and you didn’t have a bike, you wanted a bike. If somebody had a new ball glove, you wanted a new ball glove.

It someone had a party, you wanted a party. I always wanted what others had.

And occasionally, I even got what others had, but looking back, it seemed that it never ended really. That if you got what somebody else had, then you just moved on to the next thing somebody else had.

When I got to be a little older, the something that someone else had turned out to be a girlfriend.

Maybe you remember these lyrics from 1981

Jessie is a friend
Yeah, I know he's been a good friend of mine
But lately something's changed, it ain't hard to define
Jessie's got himself a girl and I want to make her mine

And she's watching him with those eyes
And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it
Yeah, and he's holding her in his arms late, late at night

You know, I wish that I had Jessie's girl
I wish that I had Jessie's girl
Why can't I find a woman like that?

Again, looking back, I was frequently attracted to other guys’ girlfriends.

In fact, I can remember very well, how maybe a certain girl would be considered attractive and all the boys thought she was the cat’s meow, and that would last for a little while, and then another girl would be the main attraction and all the boys thought she was great, and then after a while it would be another.

The point is the more that guys liked a certain girl, the more I desired the same girl.

I know I was young and immature, but I wonder if the same thing is at work in a lot of humans.

We desire what others desire. We are envious of what others have and it can lead to some real darkness.

I think the first movie I ever saw in the theatre was Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.

And although it is a very long time ago. Like sixty years, I think I was a little afraid of the Queen and her Magic Mirror.

Magic Mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all. And one day the mirror answers that is Snow White.

The queen’s envy is so great that she has to destroy Snow White.

She sends a Huntsman out into the woods with Snow White, with instructions to kill Snow White and bring back her heart.

The Huntsman has a heart of his own and he tells Snow White to run away.

She finds a home with the woodland animals and the seven dwarves.

But eventually the Mirror tells the Queen that Snow White is alive, the Queen disguises herself as an old hag and gives Snow White a poisoned apple. Snow White falls into an everlasting sleep.

It is only broken a year later when a Prince kisses her.

I know what it is like to be Snow White, not in the sense of being beautiful, but in the sense of being envied and nasty things done to me.

In fact, most people who do nasty things to you, do it out of a sense of envy, even if they don’t know it, can’t see it, or won’t admit it. Often people who do nasty things to you will talk about you if terrible terms and say they don’t want to be anything like you, but subconsciously they are envious.

And often what they are envious of, is your ability to be a self. To be your own person. To live your own life, because as less mature people, they are caught up in, stuck to, fused with the idea of having to look good to others, and having to please others.

People who abuse, people who hurt others, often are envious of the freedom of the others.

I know what it is like to be the victim of nastiness. Most of us do. Lies, violence, gossip, shutting out. Some ministers get it, because by virtue of their position, they are the ones who often get attention.

But I don’t think I am much different than other people and that a lot of us have experienced some of that over the years. If you have a position with authority. If you are good at something, or stand out at something.

Sometimes just being a brother or a sister, means that a sibling will be envious, because you are older, or because you are younger, or because Mom treated you better.

I remember having a conversation with my younger brother one time. I said that it seemed to me as the younger child, that he often got preferential treatment from mom, and extra things, and sins more overlooked than what we the two older experienced.

He said that he always thought that the two older brothers were the favourites and got special treatment and got to do more.

Amazing how one can envy a sibling and think that your sibling has been better treated than you, when it may not be the case at all.

Another time, I was feeling a little bit envious of another relative. I thought he had got it together and he had done much better than I financially, and I have to admit that even though I had a very good relationship with this person, I was a little jealous of his financial security.

And then one day, he was visiting and he said he was a little jealous of me. It kind of stunned me. He said that I had a very good relationship with my adult children and that he wasn’t as close to his children.

Hey, that put a new perspective on things for me.

So, not only do I know what it is like to be Snow White and have someone jealous of me, I know what it is like to be the Queen.

You see, we all have our own Magic Mirrors, except they aren’t actually real mirrors, they are voices in our heads much like Jesus heard when he was tempted in the wilderness.

And the voice in your head lies to you.

Sometimes it says:

You are the best. You are important. You are somebody. Everyone should respect you. Everyone should bow down to you. You should have it all. You should be rich. You deserve everything. You are not treated well enough.

Sometimes the voice says:

You are not good enough. You are nothing. You can’t change your life. You are a loser.

Usually, we tend to be on side or the other. The problem is that the voice is not telling you reality.

The voice puffs you up with self-importance, and not with self-worth.

Or the voice destroys your self-worth.

The voice plays on your ego and tempts you like Satan did with Jesus, to be other than your true self.

And we have to step away from the bubble and just be ourselves.

Envy is part of that Mental Bubble. It is a false mirror that lies to you, saying that you have to be something else, you have to be somebody else, you have to have something else…

And you have to despise those who keep you from it, or have what you don’t have.

And it is all a lie.

There is another way besides envy. It is the way of Jesus…

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Emptying oneself. Humbling oneself. Being a servant to others. Obedient to Love. Sacrificing oneself.

These are not empty words. We see the real Jesus go to the cross for us this week.

You know what the word “Hosanna” means. It doesn’t mean “God is Great” or “Jesus, you are totally awesome.”

It means. “God save us.”

Today let us pray: God save us from envy and let us walk to the cross with you. Amen