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Issue 06 – Corpus Christi 2021


On Envy

Envy is the seed of doubt planted in our admiration.


Envy, Pontius Pilate realizes, drives the chief priests to hand over the King of the Jews to him. He knows these men. They are Roman appointees. Even their leader, Joseph ben Caiaphas, serves at his pleasure. Caiaphas seems to believe that he is saving Israel by executing Jesus, the popular wonderworker said to have raised Lazarus and hailed as a king. If this one man does not die, most of the assembled chief priests and Pharisees collectively reason, the commotion will bring in the Romans to destroy the Temple, and the people will perish. So in the eleventh chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, the fix is in. Christ’s “blasphemous” claim to be the messiah is only a pretext for judicial murder. Caiaphas makes a big show of rending his garments in feigned outrage, but this Bad Shepherd’s utilitarian calculation has sealed Jesus’ fate already. Through Pilate’s eyes, we see right through even Caiaphas’s behind-closed-doors Machiavellian raison d’état. No, it is envy that drives him to murder. In Christ he recognizes a Jewish leader who is more popular than him, more powerful even than Annas, his father-in-law, and yes—Caiaphas has heard the rumors—the true high priest.

How does Pilate know that the chief priests are envious? Saint Mark does not explain why the Roman prefect is such an astute study of human nature, but we can speculate. Perhaps he is the lone educated pagan in Judaea. This Pilate might draw the insight from the Greek poets’ fixation upon envy, and so from the education that was a privilege of his equestrian class. Hesiod could have taught him that envy engenders the discord of the present fifth age, and moreover, that envy is particularly intense within what John Rawls calls “comparing groups.” Brother envies brother, potter envies potter, Jewish priest envies Jewish priest.

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About the author

Robert Wyllie

Robert Wyllie is assistant professor of political science at Ashland University and a contributing editor at The Lamp