“Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’” Genesis 37:34-35, NRSV
Have you ever been green? Not with seasickness but with jealousy or envy? Maybe it was over a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it was sibling rivalry. “Mom loves you more.” “No, she does not. She’s always favoring you, and it’s just not fair.” Maybe you are jealous of a classmate who is the teacher’s pet. Your work is better, but s/he gets better grades. What to do about jealousy?
The saga of Joseph includes a story of jealousy par excellence! Joseph is one of 12 male children in the family which includes several wives and one father, Jacob (aka Israel). The brothers are jealous of Joseph. He is the father’s favorite; that he is the apple of Jacob’s eye. Jacob even gives Joseph a special robe which has become known as the “coat of many colors.” We can well imagine how years of this favored treatment made the brothers hot with jealousy. We’re told, “they hated him.” (Gen. 37:4)
Then there were the dreams. The brothers bowing down to Joseph. The parents bowing down to Joseph. In a cultural that placed a very high value on respect for elders and filial piety, this was blatant insubordination. That was the last straw. The one that broke the camel’s back. Now, we are told, “they hated him even more.” (Gen.. 37:5) The brothers are just waiting for the right moment to take their revenge.
What about Joseph? Was he lording it over his brothers? Showing off his coat? Milking Jacob’s good will to get his way? Using his father’s favor against his brothers? Or was he oblivious to his father’s preference? Was he naive and innocent? We don’t know.
We are told, however, that the brothers take action. They are in an outlying area tending the sheep. Jacob sends Joseph to check on them. Off he goes. They have him alone, away from home. The perfect opportunity. Plan A is to kill him, throw him in a pit, and take back the precious cloak covered with blood and tell the father that he was killed by a wild animal. One brother, Reuben, puts the breaks on killing Joseph, hoping to find a way to rescue him from the pit. So Joseph is cast into the pit. That would probably lead to his death but not directly at their hands. An easier out? Softer on the conscience? Over lunch, they are still discussing killing Joseph when they see a caravan coming. Why not sell Joseph into slavery? They won’t be responsible for his death, but they’ll be rid of him and get paid for it to boot. They’ll still use the coat soaked in blood and the wild animal story with the father. The perfect solution! They are rid of the pest.
This whole terrible tale and the sorrow it spawns is the result of jealousy. Jealousy can bring out our worst. It can lead us to do things which are entirely against our truest values and moral code. Jealousy can make us ugly.
Lent is a time to examine our lives and consider the condition of our souls. It’s an appropriate time to consider jealousy. Is there anyone you are jealous of? Are you harboring unresolved jealousy? Do you sense embryonic jealousy in your spirit? This is something to give up, to release, to relinquish. This will lighten your spirit and unburden you. Don’t let jealousy lead you to betray yourself through hurtful actions.
There is plenty of pain and suffering in this life. There are accidents and illness and natural disasters. Let us not add to the grief of the world by lashing out in jealousy and creating more sorrow for ourselves and others. Amen.