Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom considers the dangers of jealousy
In Senior School Chapel this week we have looked at the story of Cain and Abel, an exploration of sibling rivalry and the dangers of jealousy. Both Cain and Abel bring God offerings, but for some reason Cain’s rejected. We’re not told why. Perhaps it’s because what he offered wasn’t his best, whereas Abel clearly did. Whatever the reason, the story’s focus is more on Cain’s reaction to the perceived injustice.
He becomes angry with both God and his brother. God warns him that ‘sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ In other words, there are dangerous feelings within him and he must choose to master them. Experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions is a quite natural part of being a human; it’s what we do with them that is important.
So Cain is angry at the perceived preferential treatment of his brother, and this leads him to become jealous. This in turn leads him to deceive: he says to his brother ‘Let us go out into the field’ and when they’re there he kills his brother. (If you worry about your children fighting, take comfort that it has happened since the dawn of time... and that it’s not as bad as in this story!)
The key point for me in the story is that when jealousy is continually fed it leads to destruction. It often stems from a lack of self-confidence or a lack of satisfaction with our own life. Indeed, many, many friendships have been spoiled by jealousy, and teenagers with a particularly strong need for peer approval are particularly susceptible to this. It’s an entirely natural feeling, but it is a very destructive emotion, so we need to be careful not to feed it.
The key point about jealousy is that it harms us more than it actually harms those of whom we’re jealous. William Penn said that the ‘jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.’
In a small and remote village near Bodmin Moor in Cornwall a long, long time there lived a young girl, called Zela, who found herself plagued by feelings of jealousy. At first Zela’s jealousy flitted from person to person: she was jealous of one boy’s way with words; she was jealous of another’s popularity; she was jealous of the times when her siblings were favoured by her parents. She found that the more she dwelt on these feelings the more they increased until one day her jealousy settled on another girl called Charis, who was the same age as her. Zela was jealous of Charis’ long beautiful golden hair, of her delightful singing voice, of her emerald green eyes. The jealousy burned within her, and the more she contemplated her feelings, the stronger they grew.
One day it occurred to Zela to visit the village apothecary, to find out whether he had any potions which could make her more like Charis. The strange old man looked at her as she entered and his brow furrowed as she told him of her jealousy of Charis’ long golden hair. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I have a potion which will turn your hair gold like hers, but this will not cure you of your jealousy.’
‘Give it to me,’ she replied, and Zela snatched the potion.
The next day she woke up to find that her hair had indeed turned exactly as Charis’, but when she went out into the village streets she was disappointed: even though she flicked it this way and that as she walked, none of the village boys turned their heads as they did for Charis.
She returned to the apothecary, demanding another potion, this time one which would transform the sounds from her throat so that she would have a delightful singing voice like Charis. The old man sighed and said again that he had such a potion, but it would not cure her of her jealousy and that he did not recommend she take it; rather, he told her to learn to be pleased with her own gifts, which were many.
But Zela threw down the money and pulled the potion from his hands, drinking it down in one gulp. She broke into song and her voice sounded just as Charis’ did, but she could not remember any of the songs which Charis sung. She walked down the street singing her songs, but she noticed that the people passing by backed away from her and turned their heads in embarrassment. She passed a mother with her children and was sure she heard one of them say, ‘Mummy, those songs are making me scared, I don’t like them.’
Back she raced to the apothecary. ‘You’re a fraud,’ she shouted at him. ‘The potion didn’t work; my singing is terrible, it causes people to fear me!’
The old man shook his head. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘the sound of your voice is just as lovely as Charis’, but the soul from which the sound flows is poisoned with jealousy, and so too then is the song. I told you that drinking the potion would not make any difference to your jealousy, just as the first changed your hair but also made you no more beautiful.’
‘Then give me something to turn my eyes green like Charis’!’ shouted Zela.
‘Enough!’ said the apothecary, ‘your eyes are green enough already. They are green with jealousy, and no potion in the world will make them more beautiful just by changing their colour. The more you feed yourself with potions to change your appearance, the more you will poison yourself with jealousy, and the uglier you will become.’
‘Then what must I do?’ asked Zela.
‘Ah,’ said the wise apothecary, ‘You must be grateful for the person God made Charis – and you must learn to be more grateful for the person God made you. Cease from trying to develop the beauty of your outward form, and work instead on the beauty of your soul. The rest will follow.’