The word of the day is “envy.” The first death of a human being happened because of murder when Cain killed his brother Able. Why did Cain do such an awful thing? Because of envy. In our reading of Proverbs 23:15-24:5, the wise sage of Proverbs writes, “Do not let your heart envy sinners but be zealous for fear of the Lord all the day (NKJV vs. 7). The sage cautions us about envy not only because it is a passion, that is, an unholy desire. But the sage warns us to guard against it because of its result. Today we learn that when envy is fully mature, it bears the fruit of hatred.
Envy grows from seemingly mild and harmless jealousy into emotions and actions that are poisonous to us and others. St. Ambrose of Optima said,” In the beginning, envy is revealed through inappropriate zeal and rivalry, and later by the fervor with spite and the blaming of the one who is envied (Elders 2013).
From Envy , To Blame, To Hatred
Yet blaming is not the end of it. Blaming leads to hatred. And hatred often leads to the most heinous acts. St. John Chrysostom says that envy is the mother of murder. For instance, it gave birth to murder in the case of Cain as well as the intentions of Joseph’s brothers to kill him (St. John Chrysostom “Homilies on the Gospel of John XXXVII).
Yet even if it does not lead to actual murder, envy produces harmful attitudes and actions. Chrysostom says that when we envy our brother or sister in Christ, we secretly exult in their sin. We try to thwart their growth in virtue. We lay traps for them. When they advance in the holy life, we become even more envious. As we have seen, hatred based on envy sets us against others. But if it is resentment against the growth in grace of our fellow members of the Body of Christ, it sets us against the Spirit who is working in them (Chrysostom, Homilies). Thus, it offends the God of love.
Not the Slightest Twinge of Envy
For these reasons, whenever we are aware of the tender plants of envy sprouting up in our hearts, we must pull them out by the roots immediately. That, says Chrysostom, is our only recourse. We must not tolerate the least twinge of jealousy in our hearts lest it should turn to blame, and blame should turn to hatred, and hatred should turn to acts that harm our neighbor (Chrysostom, Homilies).
For all the damage that envy does to our soul, we do not gain anything by it. Whatever good that happens to our neighbor neither adds nor subtracts to the good that happens to us. The good fortune of others belongs to them, and envy belongs to us. Therefore, jealousy is powerless to steal the good that others experience. It can only gloat at their blessings. But if we let envy fester in our souls, the only thing that it produces is the poison of discontent, loathing, and animosity.
Envy robs us of joy. St. Paul says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12: 15). Thus, when we are glad for the blessings that others acquire, we share in their happiness. The most powerful remedy for envy is love. “ Love,” Paul says, “does not seek its own… it does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” In the same vein, he urged, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:25).
Therefore, let us ask God to uproot any seedlings of poisonous envy that might be hidden in our hearts. And then let us ask the Spirit to plant in us the selfless shoots of love.
Elders, Optima. 2013. Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina. Translated by George Schaefer. Kindle: Reprint (2013) ed: The Printshop of St Job of Pochaev.