It is not hard for us to imagine the resentment Jacob felt when he discovered that his father-in-law had tricked him into marrying his older daughter in place of the woman Jacob had fallen in love with. Even as he worked seven extra years as bride price for his first love, Jacob would have felt this resentment and perhaps it was Leah to absorb the rancor. Rachel too would have felt the pain of being tricked by her father and perhaps Leah absorbed that too. Leah for her part felt the pain of being second best, less wanted, given in marriage as a favor to her. It is difficult under the circumstances for Leah not to feel jealous against her sister. When she gave Jacob son after son while her sister remained childless she must have felt vindicated. But then at last Rachel too gave birth and then all Jacob's love was focused in this child. Rachel died in childbirth and Jacob concentrated all his love for Rachel in his two youngest sons.
That is the background to the story we hear today. It is also the background to the strong jealousy among the sons of Jacob towards their brother Joseph. Over the years they understood through daily experience that their mother was less loved, that they too, although many, were less loved than their two youngest half brothers.
The gospel of today is another example of jealousy. The Pharisees might have started off with a genuine call to serve God. But then they entered a prestigious social circle characterized by wealth, power, scholarly knowledge of the law and the prophets, and a reputation for holiness. Then came Jesus on the scene who began to dismantle one by one, all that they had come to live for. He chose poverty and he taught detachment from earthly things. He did not come from a high social stratum, yet his power was within him. He exposed the Pharisees' hypocrisy and pretence to holiness while his own holiness was incontestable. All this combined to evoke a strong feeling of jealousy.
Jealous is as we can see, born of a strong feeling of inadequacy coupled with constantly living with someone whom we perceive to have what we lack. Jealousy erodes our happiness, for we fail even to appreciate what we have, and instead focus on what we lack. In a way jealousy is understandable, yet not excusable, for it is a sin against love and it can easily lead to a greater sin, that is, malice, as we see in today's two stories.
We pray in this season of Lent for the grace to rejoice in the gifts of others, to overcome the negative elements in us that are in our power to work on, and to grow in humble acceptance of our limitations.
Reflection on the Readings