“Envy cannot read; therefore its will is that all books should be burned.” If we can’t have it then it should not be possible for others to know what we ourselves have not be given. When we equate envy with justice, we travel a very rocky road. Denying others what we ourselves cannot have is not only foolish, it is self-defeating.
I was watching the news yesterday and happened to turn into a network report on how Jewish settlers were being forced from their settlements in the Gaza Strip. As I watched the long train of thousands of displaced and bitter settlers trudge back into Israeli territory, I was struck by the contrasts that were evident in the attitudes of the displaced. The camera focused in on one couple leaving their home for the last time. They kissed little book of the law that was nestled in their doorway and turned to leave, not looking back.
Meanwhile, in that same settlement, the camera focused in on another settler and his family. Just as sad and just as displaced, it showed him dousing his home in gasoline and setting fire to it. One left his behind that another, a stranger, might benefit from it. The other made sure that no one would benefit from it. He was determined to destroy it rather than share it. Just the thought that someone, some stranger however deserving, might benefit from his work was too much for this settler to take. He was determined to destroy what someone else might benefit from. Even though he did not know the Palestinian family that might someday benefit from his home, he felt justified in denying them the opportunity.
The story of Aristides the Just reminds me of that act of envy. Aristides the Just was present at the Athenian assembly when that body voted that he should be banished. An illiterate member from the country, not knowing who Aristides was, went up and asked him to write the name Aristides on his shell for him, meaning that he voted for his exile. As Aristides obliged him, he asked the man if he knew Aristides, or had anything against him. “No,” the man said, “I don’t know anything about him; but I get tired of hearing him spoken of as Aristides the Just.” (Macartney’s Illustrations, page 111)
The Bible tells us that “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Prov 14:30). When we in envy seek to deny others that which we can’t have, we not only hurt others but we hurt ourselves. As those two settler families left the Gaza yesterday, neither was filled with a sense of joy. Losing your home is a very bitter experience for anyone. Nevertheless, I have to believe that in the years to come when both are safely resettled in Israel the man who preserved his home for someone he did not know, will find comfort in his act of generosity. His heart will be at peace.
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