Envy is an emotion and one of the seven capital sins. As an emotion it is that feeling of sadness that we experience within because of the good seen in others. It is “a tendency to be saddened by another’s good as if that good constituted an affront to our own superiority. Often it coincides with the desire of seeing the neighbor deprived of the particular good that offends us.” (The Spiritual Life, by Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S.D.D.)
The chief priests and scribes did not like Jesus. They were envious of his popularity, his gift of teaching, and his way with the crowds. They did not believe in their own gifts; therefore, they failed to utilize them. They had been given much. Even though under Roman rule, they were free to practice their religion and to teach those under their charge, but they failed. Seeing Jesus and his example should have stimulated them to imitate his good qualities. Instead they let envy get the better of them and wanted to do away with Jesus. For those who the envy is towards, this can be crucifying!
Envy wants to destroy.
The envious speak ill of others and try to darken their character with all sorts of calumny.
Pilate saw this – why what evil has he done?
Pilate asks the crowd, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. (Mk 15:9-10) “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd.” (Mk15:11) The envious like to do this – to sow discord. Pilate again asks the crowd what they want him to do with Jesus. “Crucify him” they shouted. Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Mk 15: 14)
It was envy that crucified Christ.
Active purification in this case has to do with what do I do with the envy that I feel. Envy is a feeling but also a sin when acted upon. To counter this temptation to scorn my neighbor I can call to mind that my neighbor’s good qualities in no way lessen mine, but “are a stimulus to imitation”. (Tanquerey) This attitude combined with grace received in prayer and the sacraments can lead me on the path of virtue.
Christ was the passive receiver of the emotions of the envious. In this passive purification one suffers from the actions of others. And these bring with it terrible temptations against charity. Who wouldn’t want to strike back? With patience and persevering prayer one can carry on in charity towards those who do such things to them. Christ patiently bore all this even being mocked while suffering and dying on the cross and was able to say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23: 34)