The Deadly Venom of Jealousy


Judas asks the Jewish authorities, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” Jesus predicts his betrayal at the Last Supper. ~ Matthew 26:14-25


 

Judas The Betrayal art by Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Betrayal, art by Duccio di Buoninsegna

In Frank Stockton’s fable “The lady, or the Tiger?” we see how savage possessive love and jealousy can be. The story is set in ancient times, in a country where a semi-barbaric king has devised an ingenious method for determining a man’s guilt or innocence. The king built an enormous amphitheater with a door on one side of the arena and two doors on the opposite. The accused would enter through the single door, walk to the other side, and stand before one of the other two doors. Behind one was a hungry tiger; behind the other a beautiful young maiden. The accused had to open one of the doors. If he chose the door that concealed the tiger, the beast would devour him instantly. If he opened the other, he received the beautiful maiden as his bride.

It so happened that the daughter of the king had fallen in love with one of her courtiers, and he had fallen in love with the princess. They professed their love to one another, but it proved ill fated, for the affair became known to the king. Since it was a crime for a commoner to fall in love with the princess, the man was condemned to the arena.

But the princess was clever. She found out by trickery which door concealed the lady and which concealed the tiger. And her lover knew that she would obtain this information. So when he entered the arena, he glanced over to catch some sign as to which door he should open. The princess did give a sign. She raised her right hand slowly and with a slight movement that only her lover could see, she motioned to the right. The youth smiled in relief and opened the door on the right.

Did the princess send her lover to certain death or to marital bliss? We might presume the latter, but should not judge too hastily. When the princess found out which door concealed the lady, she also discovered who the lady was — a damsel of the court, a maiden of peerless beauty, whom the princess had often seen throwing glances of admiration upon her lover. Also, the princess perceived or thought she had perceived that these glances were returned. She had often seen them talking together, which filled her with jealous rage. She hated the woman behind the door and could not bear the thought of this creature she loathed being wed to the man the princess loved. But could the princess send her lover to certain death? Now, what greeted the man when he opened the door on the right — the lady, or the tiger? Stockton ends the story with this question.

Jealousy is fierce and barbaric. It will destroy what it loves rather than surrender it to a hated foe. The factors of jealousy and hatred can help us to understand the betrayal of Judas. William Barclay writes, “Judas was the only non-Galilean in the apostolic band, the man who was different. Perhaps from the beginning he had the feeling that he was the odd man out. There may have been in him a certain frustrated ambition… He clearly held a very important position [among the apostles]. He was the treasurer of the company… There can be no doubt that Judas held a high place among the twelve — and yet he was not one of the intimate three — Peter, James, and John… It is not difficult to see him, even if he had a very high place among the twelve, slowly and unreasonably growing jealous and embittered because  others had a still higher place. And it is not difficult to see that bitterness coming to obsess him, until in the end his love turned to hate and he betrayed Jesus” (76-77).

Jealousy can be frightening in its intensity, and triangular relationships can be the most corrosive and destructive forces in our lives. The deadly venom of jealousy can destroy those around us and eat us up inside. Shakespeare was right. The green-eyed monster “mock[s] the meat it feeds on” (Othello 3.3.166-67). It devoured Judas and can do the same to us.

 

~ A Meditation by Fr. Marc Foley, O.C.D.

 

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