In Greed We Trust
Jesus admonishes us in our passage from Luke to not become greedy. The bible is very clear: greed is a sin condemn by the prophets, by Jesus and by Jesus’ disciples.
For example Proverbs 28:25 says, A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (aka Mammon). And James 5:1-6 says, Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. … You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. ... And Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, … this also is vanity.
The prophets and disciples knew that greed was a great sin. It turns a person to selfishness and self-centeredness. One who is greedy is out to accumulate as much as possible no matter who else is left bereft of resources and even the basics of life. A greedy person only considers their own desires and seeks to go beyond their needs to gather as much money or possessions or power as they can. Indeed, they see that greed is the pathway to security and power … the people of the bible would call this idolatry: the accumulation of wealth is more reliable than faith in God. Indeed there is no role for God in a greedy person’s life.
Greed is addictive. A truly greedy person cannot stop accumulating. The much that they have is never enough. A greedy person could very well shape their life to be an engine of accumulation. Such a person may strive far beyond the necessity of building a prosperous life. Each time he or she attempts to stop they would feel like their security is slipping away and they must once again feed the god of greed, Mammon.
And greed creates a corrosive life: a life that abandons the spirit. Greed leads one to commit the hours and days to accumulation. A greedy person feels that they are wasting time if the hours and days are used for non-accumulation. Their family may be financial sound, but the greedy person has no time to be with a family … the family is neglected. Further the arts are dismissed as a waste. The inventive spirit is turned to invite more methods of accumulation rather than allowing the spirit to invent for the sake of knowledge and a better future for all. And above all greed corrodes the very spirit of community and compassion, replacing it with a my-first mentality.
A greedy person sees the great becoming greater and the least becoming lesser as a perfectly acceptable way to organize society. Greed reasons that those who are able to accumulate by whatever means are superior to those who have lost the race to accumulation. The greedy become the paragon of greatness and society disintegrates into the very rich and the very poor.
But it is not just the rich who are greedy. Indeed there are many wealthy people who are compassionate and caring of the community. They often provided needed funds and organization to uplift society.
Likewise, there are many poor people who would reach to others who are needy and give of their meager resources. But a poor person can also be greedy. Such a person is self-centered looking for whatever means at hand to improve their own personal lot. They may not have the skills and capabilities of becoming wealthy, but nonetheless their lives become corrosive and alienated.
And greed isn’t just about money. You succumb to greed when you have a drive to buy and buy more, or when you are constantly maneuvering for more power over your family or your employees. Just as chasing after money is addictive, accumulating possessions and power are just as addictive. And I’m not talking about the need to earn money and have some possessions and some power over your life. Greed is when you have gone far beyond need and reasonable extras to enhance your life and your family’s life. Greed is when you have far more than makes any sense.
In our scripture today Jesus warns us that our lives are not about our abundance of possessions. Jesus illustrates this by his story of the rich man who has so much he must tear down what he already had and build anew large storage for all that he has now … and now he has enough and can live out his life securely. But God comes along and demands his life and makes him aware that he cannot take his wealth.
What was the cost of this rich man’s accumulation? God does not count in $ and ¢. God counts the many times he ignored the need of his family to have him present with them and participating with them in their lives. God counts how many people have less because he horded his wealth for himself. God counts all the times he looked in the mirror and asked his soul … not God, not his wife, not his friend … what he should do. And the larger those counts, the less the rich man has. Great … and needless … wealth ultimately becomes an albatross that only weighs you down always demanding more and more weight.
Each and every one of us ultimately have to decide whether we will spend our time, skills, and presence in accumulating wealth and living in our own private world, or we will spend our resources on participating in the community of family, friends, and neighbors. The supposed security of wealth is tempting and seductive. How I would like to have a quarter million $$! But all the effort needed for that and all of resulting alienation and isolation would be for naught. What counts is our community and relying on God, not wealth to carry us through.
As an illustration:
There was a family whose parents were set on retirement. But they still had a significant mortgage on their house. They wanted to live out their lives in the family homestead, but they could not retire unless the mortgage was paid. So the father gathered his four children and proposed that they each pay a share of the mortgage and in return when the parents are gone, the children could sell the house and reap the profit from the house. But the incomes of his children were not all the same. One child’s income was very large. Another’s income was very small. The father said it would not be fair for each child to pay ¼ of the mortgage. Rather he said let each child pay an equal percent of his or her income. In that manner the wealthiest pay the most and the poorest the least.
Now they thought that might work. The wealthiest child remarked he would look forward to the larger share. The father intervened. He reminded them that Jesus had commanded that we care for the least. He suggested that the least receive the largest share … the share of the wealthiest and so on up the economic ladder.
The richer children bulked at this until the mother asked, would they live a golden life while their brother and sister lived a starvation life? Is that how the parents raised them? The children realizing the justice of this agreed.
But there is an added concern to which we must be alert. The focus on greed in the bible is a personal one. It is about how we as individuals choose God or the idol of greed. But in our modern society there is more to our choice than how we will play out our personal lives.
In our modern age, all of us are touched by gigantic corporations and their relationship with the host government. In the bible it is just people who are greedy. But in our world, corporations can also be greedy even though the vast number of employees is not. At this present junction of our history corporate greed has become a concern as the gap between the very rich and the poor enlarges with increasing numbers of middle class folks falling into poverty. Indeed within each corporation there are the elite, small as it is, that reap the wealth of the corporation, but they are wrapped in the ethics of the corporation and shielded by the power of the corporation.
Indeed, a fallen angel is roaming over our Nation as enormous wealth is gathered to just a very few leaving the very many in desperate straits. Many who are not in that elite succumb to that angel believing that the wealth of the very few somehow will result in wealth for all … even through our own recent history disputes this.
And because of the substantial influence these corporations have, we all participate in their greed, even though we ourselves may be good stewards of our private lives. We may object to this corporate greed, but our ability to apply the biblical demand of caring for the less is minuscule compared to the power of the corporation. And in this day and age of scarce jobs, who of us wants to risk their livelihood?
Must we then stand by and watch our society corrode knowing that we are a contributor to that corrosion?
But corporate greed and the enormous influence that corporations have on our lives and our country’s future is overwhelming. No one individual no matter how righteous can make a difference. Our media blasts us with all the horrendous news of our involvement in wars and our so-called deficits, and how the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is descending into poverty while the rich get richer than they ever have been. It’s just too overwhelming for any one of us to deal with.
But God doesn’t expect us to go it alone. God didn’t make a single human being. God made us to be creatures of community. We may be able to function in our everyday life by ourselves, but when it comes to affairs that affect us that our beyond our influence we need help and we need to join as a community.
Greed in someone’s life is corrosive to their relationships of family and friends. Greed in our national life is corrosion that leads to a broken society that no longer cares for the many of us, let alone the least among us. So what can we do?
We need to have faith in God that people in general will see the terrible risk of greed and begin to resist it. How can we resist it? We can be very clear to our elected officials that we want it stopped. Believe it or not, they listen to us … even with all of the corporate money flowing into a campaign, it is the votes that count.
We can do business with small businesses, family businesses, and so forth avoiding the big corporations when possible.
And maybe most effective, is that we can live more simply, with fewer possessions. We can live not for things, but for our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors and with God.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …