Acts 13:14,43-52; Apocalypse 7:9,14-17; John 10:27-30
Put very simply, jealousy is a resentful belief that someone else has what should rightfully belong to you. The word is first used in the Bible about Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, son of Abraham.
- Jacob's wife Rachel: seeing that she herself gave Jacob no children, became jealous of her sister.' And she said to Jacob, 'Give me children, or I shall die! (Gn 30:1)
Note how death goes hand in hand with jealousy: Give me children, or I shall die! Jealousy is, in fact, a kind of greed. It wants more than it is entitled to but is blind to the truth that it is actually not entitled to anything.
The Letter of James puts it neatly:
- You want something and you haven't got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. (Jms 4:2)
Jacob had twelve sons. His favourite was Joseph.
- Joseph's brothers were jealous of him ... they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. (Gn 37:11.18)
When King Saul and David came back from fighting the Philistines the women danced and sang: Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.
- And Saul turned a jealous eye on David from that day forward. (1Sam 18:9)
Predictably Saul tries many times to kill David himself or to have him killed by others; full-blown jealousy stops at nothing. The Book of Proverbs warns the adulterer, for example:
- For jealousy inflames the husband who will show no mercy when the day comes for revenge...(Pv 6:34)
Jealousy is a powerful force which drives us even without us being aware of it. Though the writer of Ecclesiastes overstates his case a little he speaks with penetrating insight when he laments:
- I see that all effort and all achievement spring from men's mutual jealousy. This, too, is vanity and chasing of the wind. (Eccl 4:4)
Mutual jealousy! One individual trying to outdo the other; achieving great things merely to rise above his neighbour, or in order to provoke him to jealousy. Ernst Becker, in his book The Denial of Death, aptly calls this a 'second-hand drivenness'. And yet, when death comes:
- Their loves, their hates, their jealousies, these all have perished, nor will they ever again take part in whatever is done under the sun. (Eccl 9:6)
When the Jews brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate he was reluctant to put Jesus to death. Even this pagan could see into the motives of the chief priests and elders who so blindly sought to kill the Lord.
- For he realised it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. (Mk 15:10)
We should not be surprised that the Apostles suffered the same fate as their Master.
- So many signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles that the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds and sleeping-mats in the hope that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past. People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and all of them were cured. Then the high priest intervened with all his supporters from the party of the Sadducees. Prompted by jealousy, they arrested the apostles and had them put in the common gaol. (Acts 5:12a-18)
This, finally, brings us to today's reading from Acts. Once again we learn:
- When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. (Acts 13:45)
The final occurence of the word jealousy in the Bible is to be found in the Letter of James:
- Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done... . (Jms 3:16)
Again, James links jealousy and that frantic drive to achievement which all too often disguises it. If we find it difficult to identify jealousy in ourselves or in a community of believers we should cast our eyes around for its tell-tale presence: disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done ..
How foolish we would be to apply all this to others but not to ourselves. Jealousy causes a kind of blindness which only vanishes when it is too late. No, we must say: All this applies to me first, and only then to others.
Let us prayerfully examine our motives for ambitions we strive so hard to achieve; the opposition we make to some people and for the attempts we make to 'deal' with them. Do we bring real harmony to a community, or a false harmony dependent on us having our own way?
Let us always remember that jealousy is truly a terrible curse from which we must all pray to be spared.