A Jealous God

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent, Year B)

Bottom line: Unlike human jealousy that destroys, God's jealousy puts things back in order.

With this Third Sunday of Lent we have arrived almost at the heart of the season. Our readings focus on God's jealousy. In giving the Ten Commandments, the Lord makes an astonishing admission. "I am jealous God," he says. Then he threatens severe punishment on those who worship idols, false gods.

How do we understand God's jealousy? Let's start by looking at human jealousy. A little bit of jealousy can be a good thing. I hope none of the husbands here are like some Norwegians I know - more anxious about their fishing boats than their wives. They have their priorities mixed up. A man should have a certain protective jealousy first for his wife, his children, then for his job and his property.

But human jealousy can quickly get out of hand. None of us possesses any person or thing in an absolute sense. Jealousy can ruin our relationships. For example, as pastor I should have a protective jealousy about my parishioners. But how terrible if I started thinking I am the only one who can meet your needs!

That's what happened to Saul. He was the first king of Israel and - up to a point - a pretty good king. Then along came a young man named David who was a better fighter than him. One day Saul heard the women of Israel singing:

"Saul has slain his thousands
and David his tens of thousands. (1Sam 18:7)

Rather than be glad he had a powerful warrior in his own camp, Saul became jealous. He wanted to destroy David - but he wound up destroying himself. Shakespeare says to beware of jealousy: "It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on."

Jealousy can be a horrible thing. For us, as humans, it is often fatal. None of us can say, "my wife, my children, my parish, my job, my car," in an absolute sense. If we reflect even for a moment, we see how foolish jealousy is. You and I have been thrown into a turbulent, chaotic world - and sooner than we think, some illness or accident will remove us. At the beginning of Lent, we had ashes smeared on the forehead. They remind us what low-cost materials make up the human body - and how easily our bodies are unmade. How foolish to think some person or thing belongs to me in a final way! No, they are gifts, entrusted to our care for a time. They belong to the One who made them. You and I - when we are at our best - recognize that we are Stewards of God's gifts.

God, on the other hand, does possess things in an absolute way. He created them - and us - out of nothing. When God says that he is "jealous," it implies no disorder. Unlike human jealousy that destroys, God's jealousy puts things back in order. We belong to him - and we will have no happiness apart from him.

A positive word for jealousy is "zeal." The two words come from the same Greek root. We hear today about Jesus' all-consuming zeal. To remove barriers between God and his people, Jesus tips over tables, scatters coins and stampedes cattle. He is willing to unleash some chaos - in order to get our attention. Seeing such zeal, such jealousy, it makes you wonder: For the sake of our souls, to what lengths will he go? In a few weeks, we will find out.


Intercessions for Third Sunday of Lent (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B 2012: The Coming Tsunami
2009: A Jealous God
2006: Focus Your Anger
2003: Responsible for Their Own Demise
2000: What Will Last?

Year A (RCIA):
Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

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