In our Gospel reading, someone comes up to Jesus, and in similar words which we heard Martha use a few weeks ago, says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” When Jesus demurs, He then says to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Reflecting on this, I was reminded of how seductive greed can be. The very words, “against all greed,” also reminds us how pervasive greed can be.
We can even read the words “one’s life does not consist of possessions” in two ways. One way is to be reminded that material possessions are not the most important things in life. Another way is to avoid looking at every aspect in our lives in terms of being in possession of them. We can not only be greedy for money. We can be greedy for power or control over others. We can be greedy for recognition. And so greed can delude us into seeing people and situations solely in terms of what we can get from them. So everything and everyone is seen as a possession of some kind.
Greed can be so seductive! In our reading from Colossians, St. Paul writes: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above…Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another…” I would add, “Stop lying to yourselves.” I think it is fair to say that we can rationalize greed by lies we say to ourselves or to each other.
Look at the parable Jesus tells about the rich fool. In the parable, the man doesn’t know what to do with a record harvest. He then says to himself, “This is what I shall do; I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” But at the end of the parable God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and all the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” And Jesus ends with, “Thus will it be for all those who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” The lie the fool in the parable tells himself is that these material things are all that are important. I was thinking about how the man was willing to build larger barns for his stuff rather than helping build up the world.
I think there are other lies as well. One lie is that we earned this all by ourselves and so we deserve to get everything we want, whether we need it or not. This lie neglects the necessity of being grateful to God. Sometimes it also leads to another lie that the poor are to blame for being poor, or that they’re happy being poor. Yes, some people are in difficult situations because they made bad decisions or suffer from addiction. But I know of people who are working as hard as they can and are still struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table.
Another lie is that God’s favor rests with the rich. It is true that people can be blessed materially, but God’s favor does not rest with people who gained their wealth at the expense of their employees or the well-being of their customers or the environment. And throughout the Gospels we see that God is also with the poor and those considered of no account.
Perhaps the biggest lie that leads to greed is the lie that says, “It’s all about me.” For people of faith, that is just a delusion. If we believe in the love and generosity of God, we know we are to respond to God’s love by being generous ourselves. We know that we are not isolated individuals in this world, but are connected to each other and to all of creation. As Jesus says, we need to guard against all greed, and strive for what is really important. We can witness to a dream that doesn’t involve us being wealthy, but involves no one in need.
Fr. Phil, CP