The Evil Eye of Envy

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye evil because I am good?

Matthew 20:15

Certain laborers have been laboring in vineyard since “early in the morning.” Having “borne the burden of the day and the heats,” they justly feel they have earned the penny that was promised them.

Imagine their righteous ire if their employer, the father of the family (paterfamilias), were to give them a halfpenny instead!

As it happens, this particular father represents the Almighty, and he is not about to do them wrong.

Though they get their penny, however, the laborers are not content, for the father chooses to reward those who have worked for as little as “one hour” with coins of equal value.

As previously noted, justice is a great good, and properly understood, it is a goal for which persons and peoples must constantly strive.

As with other goods, though, the corruption of justice quickly takes us from best to worst. It is therefore necessary to beware distortions of this virtue, such as envy.

In this scenario, the grumblers have earned their pennies, but resent the generosity with which the father blesses those who initially shirked the work.

Is the father misguided? As he notes, his generosity is “lawful,” in that the money belongs to him, and he is free to spend it has he pleases.

More importantly, the father is “good,” in that he chooses to spend it beneficently.

Perhaps one hour is all it took for the once-delinquent laborers to reform their ways. Perhaps the father sees that a small bonus now will inspire them to show up all the earlier tomorrow. Soon, the grateful penitents will have contributed more than their share to vineyard’s flourishing.

“Justice as fairness” can be good, as one good among many. But a more complete good includes generosity, prudently directed. And generosity and prudence demand freedom.

In our day, ideologues who idolize what they falsely call justice seek to diminish liberty in order to deprive others of what their envious eyes tell them are undeserved goods.

In doing so, they demonstrate ingratitude toward the Father, who has already given each of us more than we could ever deserve, and who has promised to bless those who follow him with unimaginable riches.

When we despise his generosity, we undermine the very root of those virtues without which the inevitable labors of this life must prove entirely fruitless.

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