A Polish rabbi once told his disciples the following parable. A simple Jewish farmer was awakened one night by an angel of the Lord. The messenger said to him, “You have found special favor in God’s eyes. God wants to bless you as He did your ancestor Abraham. Therefore, ask any three things that your heart desires, and they will be granted. There is only one condition– your neighbor will receive a double portion of whatever is given to you.”
The farmer was so excited that he could not get back to sleep. He woke up his wife and they lost no time in formulating his first request. Being very poor, it is not surprising that the request turned out to be one for material blessings. He had only a couple of pigs and they weren’t doing very well. In order to alleviate the bleakness of their poverty, he asked for a thousand more. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he and his wife could hear the sound of a great number of animals, grunting and rustling around outside. They went out to find the whole house surrounded by large, healthy pigs. They were rich. The farmer was overjoyed. He praised and thanked God over and over again, and started making plans for building new barns and fences.
Just then he happened to look over and see his neighbor, and surrounding him was an even larger herd– 2,000 equally impressive hogs. And then, for the first time since the angel appeared to him, the smile left the farmer’s face, and it was replaced by a scowl and clenched teeth. Suddenly, the joy that had filled his whole being had evaporated, and feelings of jealousy and resentment took their place. When he returned home that night his wife sensed this change of mood. She asked him what had happened, but he refused to speak and went to bed in a sullen rage. But he could not go to sleep, because when he closed his eyes all he could see was his neighbor’s larger number of pigs.
The next day the farmer remembered that the angel had promised him three wishes, and the joy returned. When he shifted his attention back to his own good fortune, all became well again. He realized that even more than wealth, he and his wife had always wanted a child. He made that request, and before long his wife was expecting a baby.
The next months were filled with joy as the farmer stayed focused on his own blessings. The night his son was born was a time of great celebration. The next day was the Sabbath and he was eager to go to the synagogue to share his great news. The rabbi rejoiced with them, and then said, “The Lord has indeed blessed our little community. Did you know that your neighbor Joshua and his wife had twin sons also born last night?”
On hearing that, the old scowl returned to the farmer’s face, and he returned home that day not full of joy like he had been, but now, again filled with jealousy and anger. This time, the negative emotions took full possession of him and did not go away.
Not long afterwards, he made his third and final request to God. This time, he requested that he go blind in one eye.
The next night the angel appeared to him and said, “Your last request has come before your Maker, and he is very sad. What has prompted you to make such a wicked request?”
“My cursed neighbor,” said the farmer, “I cannot stand to see him prosper more than me. You said he would get double of what I get. I will be glad to go blind in one eye to see him suffer even more and be totally blind.”
With that, tears began to flow down the angel’s cheek and he said sadly, “You are a pitiful creature. Your jealousy has taken what could have been good for all and turned it into evil. What a tragic waste. Your last wish will not be granted, not because God lacks integrity, but because he is full of mercy and will not let you direct him into evil. Know this, jealous one, you have made not only yourself sad, but also God.”
When the farmer looked at his own blessings, he was overjoyed. Before the angels appearance, he had nothing, and would not have dreamed of such good fortune. But all was ruined for him when he started looking at someone else’s blessings. Even though he had been richly blessed, and still had one wish to go, he could not be happy, knowing that his neighbor had even more. Even though he himself now had great wealth and was a proud father, he could not enjoy anything because he knew that someone had more. And that jealousy led first to his despair, and then to his wicked request.
This is an extreme illustration of a common problem. Much of our frustration and sadness comes not from what we have or do not have, but from our comparisons to what someone else has. This does not have to mean only material blessings; we might be jealous of another’s health, job, family situation, abilities, luck, or just about anything. No matter who you are or what you have, you can find someone else who has it better. These comparisons can destroy not only personal happiness and well-being, but may also mean the end of any kind of gratitude to God. (continued…)
Proverbs 27:4 — Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
James 3:16 — For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
I Thessalonians 5:15-18 — Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
God, give us grateful hearts. For if we do not have the grace to thank Thee for all that we have and enjoy, how can we have the audacity to seek Thy further blessings? For Jesus’ sake. Amen.