Acts 17:1-9 – Beware of Jealousy

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

But other Jews were jealous; so, they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. (New International Version)

Inevitably, whenever someone makes a splash and does something which receives a great deal of attention and/or kudos, there’s somebody else grumping in the background with jealousy.

A jealous person is a dangerous person. They seek to topple the object of their jealousy so that attention can be diverted on them.

It is an insidious game which the jealous play. Often, gaslighting is their major tool of choice – to spin circumstances in such a way that others will accept the jealous person’s view of events.

There is a difference between persuasion and gaslighting

Paul sought to persuade people that Jesus is the Messiah by understanding his audience, connecting their spiritual values with his, demonstrating competence and compassion, being clear and concise, and exemplifying a genuine spirit of integrity. Paul painted a compelling picture which was winsome and benefited the people.

Whereas his fellow Jews observed Paul’s success at persuasion and chose to gaslight the crowd by telling outright lies, playing on people’s fears, questioning motives, creating doubt, and withholding information. It is an emotionally abusive form of speaking which paints an awful picture of what will happen if the other person (Paul) has his way.

Paul had the people’s (and God’s) best interests at heart…

…the other Jews were looking out for themselves and had their own interests in mind.

Jealous persons often try to use gaslighting techniques to get their way. It’s what Satan tried to do with God, more than once.

We live in an age of envy

Jealousy is rife in our world, especially in the envy-laced West. Westerners have job-envy, food-envy, body-envy, house-envy, and a hundred other jealousies, mostly fueled by capitalist marketers who are, either knowingly or unknowingly, economic gaslighters – picturing for us a world of things we supposedly need.

And social media ups the ante by allowing millions of people to put forth a reality of themselves to others which isn’t real, at all – which ends up fomenting jealousy in others who believe they deserve this picture, as well.

If this all sounds weird and convoluted, well, it is. But that’s what jealousy does. It twists things to such a degree that we don’t even know what’s real anymore.

Jealousy survives and thrives through comparison – looking at another and deciding I need what they have. Then, unfortunately, the next logical step, for many, is to knock that other person down a few pegs so that I can get some of that attention and receive some of that stuff.

Jealousy and envy can take a very dark turn, at any time

Going beyond disparaging a person, there can be a malicious and underhanded bent to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself but wanting other people not to have it. This is a deep-seated resentment which breathes hatred and destruction. It’s the kind of jealousy the Jews had for Paul.

We all get jealous, at times; it’s part of the human condition. So, here’s a healthy way of dealing with it, instead of going dark and vengeful: Just as our hunger tells us we need to eat, the feeling of jealousy, if we will listen to it in the right way, can show us what is missing from our lives that really matters to us.

Acknowledging and naming the jealousy for what it is, then opens us to determine what my real need is, which perhaps, might not be getting met. We all have legitimate needs for love, belonging, and purpose. It’s just that we sometimes seek to meet those needs in illegitimate ways – like envy.

In a society where expressing needs may be looked upon as selfish or weak, many people opt to hustle for those needs through convincing a bunch of rabblerousers that another should get beat up and disparaged.

Let’s not do that… Let’s not start a riot.

It’s both okay and vital that we learn to ask for what we need and want – because the alternative isn’t going to end well.

Lord Jesus, fill us, your people, with charity, compassion, faith, gentleness, hope, humility, joy, kindness, light, love, mercy, modesty, patience, peace, purity, security, tranquility, trust, truth, understanding, and wisdom. Help us to walk in light and in truth, illuminated by the Holy Spirit so that together we may praise, honor, and glorify Our Father today and throughout all time. Amen.

Luke 19:45-48 – Jesus Cleans House

A bronze panel of Jesus chasing the merchants from the Temple by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (New International Version)

Jesus seems a bit like an actor in an old western movie. He’s the sheriff who drifts into town, sizes up the situation, shoots up the bad guys, defends the women and children, and cleans up the town. 

It’s a side to Jesus that might surprise some.

Jesus is no simple one-dimensional person, as if he’s always calm and picking dandelions. Christ is fully human and fully God – a complex person full of both human and divine anger. Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus defies stereotyping, and that we need to see a fuller profile of who he is, and what he is up to.

Jesus is not only the merciful servant who graciously heals at the temple; but he is also a mighty judge who is intolerant of unjust systems and cleans house. 

Because Jesus is superior to everything, he is not some Being that we can domesticate for our own personal use. He did not come to this earth as some sort of spiritual vitamin supplement, or to be on call 24/7 in order to bail us out when we need it, or help us get ahead in life.

Instead, zeal for his Father’s house consumes Jesus. (John 2:13-17)

Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple by Raymond Balze (1818-1909)

Christ sought to please the Father. Jesus oversees what the church and Christians are supposed to be. 

It’s our task to conform to Christ, and not the other way around. 

That happens whenever we let Jesus be the sheriff who drives out our sin, and, at the same time, the town doctor who brings the needed healing to our lives. 

Jesus cleaned house by attacking the system he saw operating.

It was Passover, the time when all pious Israelites made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Cattle, sheep, and doves were used for sacrifices. And the only place where those sacrifices were made was at the Temple in Jerusalem.  This meant that anyone wanting to worship God from outside of Jerusalem would have to do some traveling. 

Over time, a system was set up: Vendors established kiosks which lined the Temple courts; and they sold animals for the required sacrifices, as a matter of convenience. 

Since there were thousands of folks who came from a long way, often from outside of Israel, they brought their foreign currency with them, and it could be exchanged at the tables set up by money-changers.

Perhaps that all sounds practical. A little capitalism which provides a service for the people doesn’t seem all bad. So, what’s the problem? 

Jesus didn’t have a problem with capitalism per se; his problem with the whole system is that it should not even exist – these guys should not be in the Temple, at all! 

Jesus attacked the system and made a western movie scene out of it because the vendors and money-changers, even if using sound business practices (which they weren’t) should not even be there. For Jesus, it trivialized the Temple and took away from its intended purpose as a house of prayer for all nations.

Here’s how the system was supposed to work:

Coming to the Temple from outside of Jerusalem was never intended to be easy or convenient.

Making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was supposed to be difficult. For the past year, since the last Passover, a family raised a newborn lamb in their house. Parents and children all took part in caring for it.

Then, when it was time, they all journeyed to Jerusalem together, taking turns carrying the year old lamb over their shoulders. Everyone knew what was coming. Their precious lamb, now a cherished part of the family, would be given in sacrifice at the Temple.

It was all a very powerful reminder of sin’s cost and how terrible it truly is.

Entering Jerusalem with no animal, and only money to buy one, is a cheap facsimile of real worship.

It misses the entire point of the system. It hinders people from genuinely connecting with God through prayer.  And Jesus will not put up with it – to the point of violently driving the whole system out of the Temple.

Jesus didn’t mess around with the sinful system. He didn’t politely ask the money-changers to move their tables somewhere else; he didn’t strike a deal with those selling animals to market them at cost. No. Instead, he went all town sheriff on them because the whole system was a blasphemous act against the right and true worship of God.

It has been the sin of the Church, through the centuries, to find ways of doing ministry and worship by not actually doing it (e.g., selling indulgences). 

We might feel good by simply attending a worship service, or offering some obligatory prayers, and giving money without having done anything to meaningfully connect with God. Our devotion may not be toward bringing something of ourselves to sacrifice by using our spiritual gifts and laying our lives down for others. 

It’s really a heart issue. For example, we might rightly give to missionaries or mission projects. Yet, if we give without any thought to doing missions ourselves and being missional people, then we are in grave need of having a clean house by overturning the tables in our hearts. 

17th century Ethiopian depiction of Christ cleansing the Temple

Jesus cleaning house was not an end in itself; he did it so that the Temple could be used for its intended purpose: A house of prayer. A place of healing. A gathering of collective praise to God.

Whenever an existing system is challenged, there will be those who push back because they benefit from the way things are.

The religious leaders were incensed by Christ’s systemic change. The behavior of Jesus challenged their authority, and they were angry about losing some of their power – not to mention jealous and envious that the people hung on his every word.

Jealousy rots the bones. Envy and selfish ambition accompany every evil practice and are behind every evil system. (Proverbs 14:30; James 3:14-16)

The real culprit behind the Temple system, as well as our own conflicts and disagreements is our selfish anger, our abject jealousy that someone else is receiving something which should be mine, and our insidious envy of wanting what another has.

Jesus knew he would upset and anger the religious leaders. But he cared enough about the proper place of worship that he attacked the contrived Temple system that fed on obscuring what real sacrifice was. Christ was willing to take on the establishment and reestablish a house of prayer for all people.

The way for us has been made clear through the death of Christ. Jesus has removed the old system and replaced it with the new. (Hebrews 8:13)

Therefore, we ought to be a beacon of hope for all who are coming to God and desire to offer their sacrifice of service or praise. We must eliminate any system, rule, or practice that eviscerates true worship.

May we follow the Lord Jesus by being active and proactive in making the way clear for others to come to God. And the first step to doing so is by having God clean house on our own hearts.

It’s what a good deputy sheriff would do.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Acts 5:17-26 – How to Handle Jealousy

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So, they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. (New International Version)

Celebration and success have their own challenges. Whenever things are going well, there are inevitably others who become jealous. And when jealousy takes root in a person or a group of people, it can result in harming and hurting others.

Indeed, persecution broke out against the apostles. Their ministry was flourishing. Thousands of people were being added to the Church. Miraculous healings abounded. And, standing in the shadows, were a group of jealous religious leaders. Since their power was diminishing, the ruling council had the apostles arrested – seeking to contain their influence and stop the spread of the Church.

Jealousy is one of the places we go whenever we play the comparison game with others. Whereas envy is wanting something that someone else has, jealousy is a deep-seated fear of losing someone or a group of people.

The reason jealousy can be so damaging and insidious is because of the anger and sadness behind it. In the case of the religious leaders, they saw the success of the apostles, the popularity of the burgeoning church, and the attention being diverted from themselves onto the apostles – and they were angry. The loss of religious power was just too much for them, so they became jealous.

Jealousy, much like anger, is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion. It’s what we do with the feeling that matters. In our anger we might turn it inward on ourselves, direct it onto another with verbal or even physical violence, or just get downright snarky and passive-aggressive. Also, with jealousy, it too often gets worked out on others by attacking them in some way.

God feels both anger and jealousy. Yet, those divine emotions are used to bring justice, establish what is right, and help the disadvantaged. God as a jealous God means that the Lord is saddened and hurt by people trying to find satisfaction in all the wrong places through idolatry.

Israel soon became fat and unruly;
    the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
    they made light of the Rock of their salvation.
They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
    they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
    to gods they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
    to gods their ancestors had never feared. (Deuteronomy 32:15-17, NLT)

God desires that people discover healthy ways of coping and acknowledge their jealous feelings. The Apostle Paul did just that:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NIV)

The feeling of jealousy is meant to tell us something. Instead of pushing it aside, listen to what it has to say. Perhaps it is leading us to acknowledge our grief and lament our loss. It could be alerting us to our great loneliness or deep sadness.

For whatever reason the jealousy arises, stuffing it or pushing it aside may cause harm to ourselves or others. A profound lack of self-awareness will always come back to bite us in the behind.

So, how do I handle those feelings of jealousy when they come?

  • Seek to understand. Trace the feeling back to its true source. Whether the jealousy stems from insecurity, fear, or past relationship patterns, knowing more about the causes can help us figure out how to confront it and deal with it.

An understanding heart seeks knowledge; but fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:14, CEB)

  • Talk to someone. Give voice to your concern. Discuss the feelings of jealousy with a trusted friend, family member, or faith leader.

Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NET)

  • Express your grief. With jealousy there is a loss or a worry of losing someone or something. Prayer is a good idea when we are losing someone.

God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. (Psalm 102:1, MSG)

  • View another perspective. Try and take a big picture approach and consider other angles to the situation which is producing the jealousy.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. (Isaiah 55:8, NLT)

  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for the people, circumstances, and things you have in your life right now. Thankfulness is often a powerful antidote to strong feelings of jealousy.

Tell the Lord how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful. (Psalm 118:29, CEV)

  • Explore underlying issues. Sometimes jealousy has to do with insecurity or low self-worth. Addressing your value as a person and the unique contribution to others you bring to the world has the effect of kicking jealousy to the curb.

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27, CEB)

  • Be patient. Give it time. Most people don’t get over their jealous feelings overnight. It’s a process. So be kind to yourself and stick with acknowledging and discovering what jealousy has to teach you.

Be patient when you have troubles. (Romans 12:12, ERV)

May you find satisfaction, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Samuel 24:1-22 – How to Handle An Enemy

David and Saul in the Cave by James J. Tissot (1836-1902)

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So, Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

“Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

So, David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (New International Version)

Sometimes reconciliation is neither possible nor wise.

King Saul was unstable. Although initially appreciative of David’s service, Saul became jealous. And that jealousy eventually grew into suspicion, then paranoia.

It became so bad that David had to flee and went on the run. Saul was convinced David wanted his kingship, so he hunted him like an animal. He wanted him out of the limelight and out of the way – permanently.

There are times in everyone’s life that another person actively and intentionally seeks to do us harm. How do we handle such a situation? How might we respond in a way that gives us peace of mind?

David continually had enemies throughout his life. And the vast number of those who opposed him, did so despite the fact that David didn’t deserve it.

“We retaliate instead of reflect, and we burn hot in the flames of revenge rather than cool our heels in the pool of patience.”

Craig D. Lounsbrough

Saul came looking for David with an army five-times the size of David’s rag-tag group of men. Yet, Saul had no idea that he had ambled into being a sitting duck.

What would you do in that kind of situation?

Picture the person who gives you the most grief. Maybe they purposely speak bad about you or try and oppose you at any opportunity. Perhaps there is a boss or someone in authority who seeks to undermine you every chance they get.

And now, the tables are turned. You have the chance to publicly put them in their place. You can put an end to the madness. What are you going to do?

In David’s situation, his men made the logical assumption that God ordained the turn of events. So, go ahead and off Saul. Become the king. After all, God already told you that you would be king. Now he’s giving you the opportunity. It’s right there. Take it, man.

“Retaliation is a dog chasing its tail.”

Libba Bray

But David didn’t take advantage of having the upper hand. He didn’t kill Saul because he was convinced it wasn’t the right thing to do. In fact, David felt terrible for even considering the idea. He wasn’t going to take matters into his own hands.

So, David left it in the hands of God. Since God anointed him as the next king, David reasoned, then God would make it happen. He didn’t need to do God’s job for him. David’s theological perspective was this: God is my defender; God will take care of me; God will judge another’s sinful behavior.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a story in the importance and necessity of non-retaliation. What’s more, it’s a lesson in treating all people with respect, even if they don’t seem to deserve it, at all.

This lesson in no way infers that we sit idly by and refuse to hold another accountable for their actions. It just means we aren’t the judge, jury, and executioner.

Once Saul realized he had been a sitting duck, he repents… or does he? He admits to his wrong, even emotionally reacts to it. But here’s the bottom line to all overtures of repentance: It must result in a change of attitude and behavior. And Saul didn’t offer that.

So, the story ends pretty much as it began. There’s no reconciliation because there’s no true repentance on the part of Saul. The disturbed and paranoid king ends up continuing his murderous pursuit of David. *Sigh*

Folks like Saul have no intention of changing. They only want to hold onto their power and control. They’re only happy if others are giving them accolades and kudos. And if they’re not getting recognition, there’s hell to pay.

Beware of false repentance. Don’t be fooled by a person who has a pervasive pattern of self-interest, then, all of a sudden, feels sorry. It’s likely they’re doing that because they don’t have the upper hand – and they desperately want it back.

More importantly, don’t play their game. Instead, live by the ethics of God’s kingdom. You’ll be glad you did.

O God: Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward in the face of its difficulties. Let me not lose faith in other people. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness. Preserve me from harm and keep me from harming others. Help me to keep my heart clean, and to not become disheartened by the evil of others. Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see the good in everything. Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness and make me a conduit of your blessing to others, in the name of the strong Deliverer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.