All of you are loving each other and I may be left out! That feeling, that particular fear, according to Robert Moore, lies at the base of jealousy.
That was the fear of Cain, the archetypal biblical character who was the first person to murder his brother out of jealousy. What prompted his jealousy? Whatever it is that lies inside this metaphor: God looked with favor upon Abel and his offering, but God did not look with favor upon Cain and his offering. For whatever reason, it seemed to Cain that everyone else was loving each other and he was left out!
And so, scripture says, jealousy turned him into a killer and, I suspect, the identical dynamic is present every time we see a mass murder like the ones that occurred at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and more recently in Germany and Alabama. The killers are always lonely, dangerously isolated individuals who, no doubt, share with Cain the experience of seeing others’ offering as acceptable and their own as not. Everyone else, it seems, is loving each other and they are being left out.
Moreover, what we see acted out so horrifically in these mass murders often acts itself out inside of us on a smaller stage. Because of jealousy we too are all killers, except when we kill we do not do it with guns. We do it with thoughts and words.
Henri Nouwen once coined this mantra: Anyone shot by a gun is first shot by a word and anyone shot by a word is first shot by a thought. He is right. We murder in our thoughts every time we say inside ourselves: “Who does he think he is! She thinks she’s so clever! He thinks he’s God’s gift to creation! She’s so full of herself!” Who of us has not walked into a meeting, a boardroom, a church assembly, a family dinner, a social situation, or a gathering of some kind and, not unlike the mass murderers at Columbine or Virginia Tech, subtly sprayed bullets of jealous anger around the gathering? When we are wounded like Cain, when it seems like our offering is not being accepted while that of others’ is, when it seems like everyone is loving each other and we are being left out, the spontaneous impulse is to kill in word, thought, and attitude.
What’s to be done? How do we live beyond jealousy and the sense of being left out?
The first thing is to admit our jealousy. It is never a question of whether we suffer from jealousy or not, but only of what we do with our jealousy. We all suffer from jealousy and the bitter and murderous thoughts that it can trigger.
Once we have admitted that we are jealous, we are invited to move on and see our response to jealousy as precisely the greatest moral and spiritual challenge of our lives. That is not over-stated.
When we look at the drama of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the drama in which he struggles to give his death over to us as he had been giving his life over, we see that this drama is precisely a drama of love, not a physical one. Unlike Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of Christ, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and death do not emphasize his physical sufferings, in fact they almost write them out. What they do emphasize rather is his moral and emotional loneliness, his distance from others, his being cut out of the circle of human understanding, and his exclusion from human intimacy. The gospels tell us that he “was a stone’s throw from everyone”, a condition Gil Bailie characterizes as unanimity-minus-one.
As Jesus approached his death, his earthly experience paralleled that of Cain. His offering, it seemed, was not being accepted, either by God or everyone around him. He felt the radical isolation that comes precisely from exclusion, from misunderstanding, from being the object of hatred. The human temptation, surely, must have been towards bitterness, anger, self-pity, and hatred. But his actions are the antithesis of Cain’s and his response to the bitter feelings that surely must have arisen inside of him constitute precisely his real sacrifice and are the great moral challenge he left us:
Surrounded by jealousy, hatred, and misunderstanding, he gives his life over in trust. When everything tempts him toward bitterness, he moves towards graciousness. When everything tempts him toward hatred, he moves towards love. When everything tempts him towards shutting others out, he makes himself still more vulnerable so that others can come in. When all around him there is coldness, paranoia, and curses, he affirms others, blesses them, and affirms warmth and trust. What a person does when love turns sour is the real drama of love. Cain gives us one answer. Jesus gives us another.
What’s our answer in those moments of our lives when we sense that “all of you are loving each other and I may be left out”?