There is perhaps no better evil eye than that of the Janitor from Scrubs.
I raise this, partly because SHW and I have been working our way through the whole series on dvd as of late, but mostly because of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson wherein our faithful translators have attempted to capture the meaning of a Greek figure of speech that English probably wasn’t meant to capture.
Toward the end of the parable, as the landowner is confronting the grumbling laborers, he says to them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” If we can be honest with each other for just a moment, this is probably the end of Jesus’ dealing with this matter and the whole “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” part is probably a Matthean addition to created the bookend he’s looking for rhetorically. If this is the end of the lesson from Jesus, it really does end with an interesting challenge, “Are you envious because I am generous?” I dealt with that yesterday.
What I find even more interesting is what the Greek has Jesus actually saying, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” John R. Donahue, SJ picks up on this little gem in his The Gospel in Parable, noting that for Matthew, the eye bit is something of a recurring theme. “The final words of the owner, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” underscores the defect in these servants. Since in Matthew “the eye is the lamp of the body” (6:22) and “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” (5:29), these servants allow their attitude to “darken” their whole way of viewing the world. What began as an act of goodness to them and unfolded as an act of generosity to others blinded them to the goodness of the owner and the good fortune of others” (82-83).
When we begin to make judgements about what we think others deserve, we look upon them with an evil eye. That evil eye doesn’t really have any negative effect on the other, but rather, it permeates our own hearts with the darkness of envy. Remember that Jesus has told this parable in response to Peter’s question about what kind of reward the disciples were going to get for having given up everything to follow Jesus. Remember that Peter asks that question in response to Jesus’ assertion that though it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle. Remember that Jesus says that because the rich young man walks away sad rather than becoming a disciple. And remember that the rich young man walks away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Got all that?
Peter didn’t want there to be any chance that that rich young man, who refused to give up his opulence, could get in to the kingdom of heaven. And on the off chance he did, since everything is possible for God, Peter wanted to be sure that the disciples would end up better of than that guy. Peter’s eye had become evil, and Jesus let him know about it. He saved him the indignity of cutting it out, and instead told a parable inviting Peter to look upon the kingdom of heaven in a new way. There are no winners and losers, no firsts and last, just beloved children who have been graciously received in through the generosity of the Father.