25rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mt 20:1-16

" Generosity is Love without Envy "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 18th September 2011

There is a true story of Liz a parishioner of Fr Daniel who went to him and said, “Father, your homily last week is still bugging me.  I’ve got a loving husband with a good job, three healthy and happy kids, a nice house, a good car, all kind of furniture, clothing and food.  You know, it’s really hard for me to admit this, but sometimes when I walk or drive through my neighbourhood, I find myself full of envy for my neighbours . . . they seem to have better houses, newer cars, smarter kids than mine . . . what shall I do?” 

Dolores Curran who writes about Christian family life adds, “Envy is still a deadly sin today.  People envy families who get along with minimal friction.  Adults envy other people’s BMWs.  Teens always wanting the latest IT gadgets and branded clothing to the point of making their peers envious, and themselves miserable, if they don’t have the right labels hanging all over their bodies.” 


It is a paradox that many people who live in the most affluent society on the face of the earth are nonetheless plagued by the deadly sin of envy.  And, like Liz and even amongst the poor like the tenants in today’s Gospel, many people find it hard to admit they have envy in their hearts.

 Envy seems to be so small-minded, so ugly and so shallow.  It has been said that envy is one of the deadly sin to which no one readily admits and confesses.  It seems to be one of the most common sins around.  It is sneering, sly, vicious. No wonder few people own up to it.”


Today’s Gospel theme is quite clear to all of us.  In the parable, Jesus explains how God is always infinitely generous with every one of us.  He gives us abundantly out of His great compassion for our needs.  He is like the landowner in the parable who paid every worker generously regardless of how many hours they each worked.

You and I are so blessed to have a God who is never calculative.  Instead, we have a God; the one True God who dotes on us.  He loves us so much that He is constantly and daily giving us abundant blessings of all kinds and especially so when we do not deserve to receive them. Should we not be so happy and grateful to God for loving us so generously?

We would not be what we are today if not for God’s abundant blessings on us.  In fact, all of us should each be jumping for joy at having such a caring and loving God.  However, instead of being a happy and fulfilled person, somehow we are not as happy and fulfilled as we ought to.

Perhaps, this is because we are either not grateful enough to God for all that blessings that He has given us or because we are constantly comparing what we have, with what other people have, like Liz in our story and the tenants in today’s Gospel.  And as such, we begin to feel envious and jealous of others.  This is precisely what Jesus was trying to remind us of in today’s Parable. The workers who were paid a just wage were unhappy with the landowner who paid other workers who worked less hours than them.

Daniel Lowery, a Redemptorist priest explained that envy is feeling painful and resentful because others are enjoying an advantage that we ourselves desire to possess.  In other words, envy is feeling sorrow over other people’s good.  And the reason we grieve over other people’s good, talents and possessions is because somehow we see their blessings as lessening and diminishing what we have been blessed with.  And once we have such an attitude,we will try to pull the other person down by engaging in bad mouthing, spreading half-truths and finding fault with the person.

Envy can also be resenting and begrudging the spiritual gifts and spiritual life of another person who has a good reputation for being holy or close to God.  The problem is not so much the gifts and blessings that others have, but the conviction that the spiritual richness of others makes us spiritually poor.

The poet, John Dryden says that envy and jealousy is a kind of spiritual sickness which easily turns trust to suspicion, love to hate and peace to fury.  And it is a spreading sickness.  It infects the jealous person, but also the person who is the object of the jealousy.  It may affect a good many other people as well.  And where does envy and jealousy come from?  It arises from our fears and insecurities and immaturity.  And, an immature and insecure person is preoccupied with the self.  Thus, it is often said that in envy and jealousy, there is more self-love than true love.”  Such a person is always suspicious, judgmental and intolerant . . . often destroying relationships in the process.  But, like all sins, our envy and jealousy can be forgiven and healed – but only if we are willing to recognise that we have such a hindrance in our hearts and are willing to allow God’s grace to touch and heal us.

Fr Bernard Haring a great moral theologian shared, “After World War II, during the hard times of Germany, I met three women refugees.  They were desperately poor.  And since I myself had nothing at all, I turned to a rich devout Catholic whom I knew, ‘Could you please help them, I pleaded.  To which he promptly answered, ‘Why me?’  So far, nobody has given me anything.’  Father Bernard said, “I was horrified at his response, and told him, ‘You surely are the poorest man of all.  Obviously, you haven’t yet discovered that everything you own is a gift from God.  Is God ‘nobody’ to you?”  He took a deep breath and opened his wallet.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus in today’s Gospel is asking us a very basic question, “Do we want to live a happy and fulfilling life?”  A person who does not have gratitude to God and to others will inevitably be cold-hearted, lonely, inclined to self-pity and cannot ever be really satisfied and happy either with themselves or with others.  Thus, Jesus through today’s Gospel is challenging you and me.  He is saying to us, “Be grateful for all the blessings that God has given you and never be envious of what others have.”

And if we heed His Words, this is what would happen to us.  We will become priests and religious who will witness to the Good News of Christ effectively.  And spouses who value each other as gifts and through this discovery, we will bring out the best in each other.  And when our children and siblings see this in us,it would bring much happiness to them.  Gratitude makes us sensitive, sharp-eyed and creative, and we will always be discovering and awakening the abundant sources of strength within us, that come from God.

Grateful persons also store up grateful memories of good experiences of the past.  In this way, the richness of the past and all our positive experiences will become a treasure, a source of energy for the here and now of our lives.  Even in times of pain and trials, they will only be temporary because a grateful person is never filled with misery, but on the contrary he would have a thousand reasons for thanking God.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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