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For Your Weekend: The Injustice of Envy

Kristy Malik

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 20:116a

“But WHY? It’s not FAIR!”

You may think I’ve got a story for you about one of my kids, but nope. That was me—last week. 

I had my heart set on something. Something that definitely didn’t happen. Something that I had prayed for—begged God for—and told myself would be good for me. I was convinced there was no way God wouldn’t give it to me because there was no scenario where this wouldn’t be good for me. It just MADE SENSE for me to have it. Other people I know have it. And then I didn’t get it. 

I’m purposefully being vague because I think you can fill in the blanks with your own story here. Do you still wonder why God never answered your particular prayer the way you wanted? Perhaps you can relate to the people described in this Sunday’s gospel reading. 

In Matthew 20:1–16, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hires workers for his vineyard. Early in the day, he agrees on a daily wage with some workers and sends them into the field. He gathers more workers every few hours, promising to pay them “what is just” (Matthew 20:4). At the end of the day, he pays each worker the same amount, starting with those who were hired last and only worked an hour. The workers hired first and worked a full day expected to be paid more and “grumbled against the landowner” (Matthew 20:11). 

The landowner’s response to one of them?

“My friend, I am not cheating you”—literally, I am not treating you unjustly[1]“Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13–15).

I am not treating you unjustly. Are you envious because I am generous?

I can imagine the sense of injustice those first workers felt. The indignation at others receiving what they thought should be theirs as well. I wonder if they wanted to respond to the landowner’s question with, “Of course, we’re not envious because you're generous! We’re envious because you were not more generous with us!” 

We do this, too. We confuse God’s generosity toward others with injustice toward ourselves. 

Matthew 20:10 says, “They thought that they would receive more, but...”

They presumed to receive something that was never promised to them—more. So many times, we expect God to give us more because we think it’s what we need. 

The first reading from Isaiah reminds us about how God thinks:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

The sovereignty of God is comforting when we think about how He created everything and sustains the world around us. It's easy for us to believe that He is in control of things “out there.” 

It’s when His sovereignty intersects our own lives—when it applies to the things “in here”—that we have a problem. 

Theologian Charles Spurgeon writes: Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne.”[2]

We like the idea of a sovereign God only until that idea crosses the line of our perceived autonomy. That’s when His full power and control over everything don’t sit well with us. 

Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways.  

Either God is sovereign everywhere and always, or He is not.
Either God knows what you need, or He does not.
Either God is just, or He is not. 

When our heart’s desire is unmet, or someone else receives a gift from God that we think should have been ours, we can feel like God cares more for others than He does for us. We feel the sting of injustice. But the true injustice happens when we believe the lie that God is holding out on us—then we look at another’s blessings and become envious. This is what Jesus was warning against at the end of the parable.

“Envy is not simply jealousy, which is the desire to attain or possess what another person has. Envy is the sin of being upset at another’s good fortune. Scripture traces its beginning back to the devil himself (Wisdom 2:24)."[3]

I don’t know why God didn’t give me what I asked for even though it seems like everyone else has it. I can’t tell you why He gave someone else the very thing you’ve been praying for. But I do know that He is good (Psalm 25:8). He knows what you need (Matthew 6:8).

God’s generosity with others is not a statement that He loves you less.

So, instead of telling you how to deal with any envy you may be feeling, I’ll just tell you what I did last week after my mini temper tantrum with the Lord. I dragged myself to confession. I confessed the sins of pride and envy and begged God to help me grow in the virtue of humility. I thanked Him that He is sovereign and I am not. I renewed my belief that He knows what is best for me, even when—especially when—I think I know better. 

Sister, the place where we can receive more from Him—where His generosity is freely given whenever we ask—it’s in the forgiveness of our sins every time we enter the confessional. God’s forgiveness is generous, superabundant even. And it is the more He will always give you.

With you on the journey,

Food for thought or journaling…

Today, I will write down a list of the ways I am grateful for the Lord’s generosity in my life. I will go to confession for any sin of pride or envy I may have committed and ask for the grace of humility and charity. 

Lord, I worship you today as sovereign, all-knowing, and all-good. You are a generous God, and I am grateful for all the ways you have blessed me. Help me rejoice when others receive generous gifts from you. Amen.

[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition, Matthew 20:13 footnote (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 2011), 44.
[2] C.H.Spurgeon, “Divine Sovereignty,” Blue Letter Bible Text Commentary (September 11, 2023): https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/spurgeon_charles/sermons/0077.cfm?a=949015.
[3] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Gospel of Matthew, The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 255.

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