I'm reading through Peter Kreeft's book Back to Virtue. When writing about greed, Kreeft made a point that I thought was hilarious, provocative, and damning of our capitalistic culture:
“I think Jesus would find The Price Is Right as obscene as Deep Throat.”
Greed is almost impossible to detect in our lives because it is the very air that we breathe. Our entire economic system is built on the belief that humans are never fully satisfied and always want to acquire more. To be fair, greed is not a problem that is exclusive to a capitalistic society. Even in his day, Jesus spoke out against greed more than any other sin.
Of the seven deadly sins, greed is often ranked second behind only pride. Like pride, the other deadly sins often flow out of a greedy heart. It's not hard to see how of envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and wrath can connect to greed. Paul warned us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
Greed is the immoderate desire for possessions or wealth. Seneca wrote: “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Being greedy and being wealthy are not the same thing. It is not a sin to have material wealth. It is a sin when you are obsessed about acquiring more and make that a chief aim in life.
Being greedy is not the same thing as being wise with your resources, but the lines can definitely get blurry. We often justify our greed under the pretense of being shrewd. I see this most commonly in myself and others I know by disguising greed as providing for our family. We should certainly take care of those around us, but we shouldn't use them as a scapegoat for our own ambition.
Greed plays itself out in two ways- an unquenchable desire to get more and an unreasonable fixation on trying to protect and preserve what you already have. Both Jesus (Luke 12:15-33) and Solomon warn about the futility of hoarding wealth.
Greed is, at its core, connected to fear and control. When we are greedy, it shows us that we are lacking trust in God to provide or to be enough. In our posture of
Solomon, one of the wealthiest men in human history, knew of the futility of greed. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10-12:
“Those who love money will never be satisfied with money, and those who love riches will never be happy with what they have. This, too, is fleeting. The more goods there are, the more people there are to consume them. How does any of this really benefit the owners except they can gaze proudly on their possessions? Sweet sleep comes to those who work hard, regardless of how much or how little they’ve eaten. But the abundance of the rich keeps them awake at night.”
Jesus warned us not to obsess over things that 'moth and rust can corrode and destroy', knowing that doing so also corrodes and destroys our souls. It's no coincidence that miser and misery come from the same root word.
When Jesus called out the rich young ruler and told him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, he was asking that for the sake of the rich young ruler, not just the poor around him. In essence, Jesus was telling him, "You cannot bring a greedy heart into the kingdom of God, you've got to leave that behind." Being greedy disconnects you from God and from others.
CONTENTMENT AND GENEROSITY
The counter virtue(s) to greed are contentment and generosity. Contentment means having your desires fulfilled by what you already have. Often, in our pursuit or obsession for more, we are actually missing out on the joy of the blessings that are right there in front of us staring us in the face. Once we've acquired what we are pursuing, we toss it to the side and move on the next acquisition. It's never enough.
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from jail. He thought for sure he was going to die. And this is what he wrote to them:
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances. I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having plenty. In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances: fed or hungry, with or without. I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.”
How much joy are we missing out on with what we already have because we have target fixation on what we don't have. For Paul, his relationship with Christ brought so much joy to him that he was able to be content regardless of whatever the other circumstances of his life were.
In his letter to the Philippians, he also expressed tremendous, specific gratitude for the people that were in his life. Even though, at that moment, he didn't have material wealth or comfort, his heart was full. This is a strong lesson for us during this holiday season.
Alongside contentment, Jesus and Paul constantly push us towards generosity. Where as greed creates disconnection with others, generosity connects us with others while at the same time breaking the grip of greed on our hearts.
Once again, wealth is not a sin. Greed is. Plenty of people in the Bible were wealthy. For some, it became a crutch that eventually ruined their relationships. For others, it was a platform from which to bless others. Seneca wrote:
“Wealth is the slave of the wise man but the master of a fool.”
Which are you?
What are you often preoccupied with?
What is the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing on your mind at night?
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be..."
"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions..."