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The week I preached on this sin I conducted anecdotal research to see how many people thought they were prone to greed. Few people did. They admitted to anger, envy, and gluttony, but no one confessed a problem with greed. A few attributed greed to others, but not to themselves.
These isolated responses backed up my assumption: the face of greed has changed and few of us see it as a spiritual problem affecting us. The old image of greed is a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in a cold room, counting gold coins while earing fingerless gloves. Occasonal news stories back up our image when we hear of a woman in Detroit who was found frozen to death in an unheated house. Later authorities discover she had hundred’s of thousands of dollars in her bank account.
Or, we visualize Michael Douglas in the nearly 30-year old movie, Wall Street, saying “Greed is good.” Greed is something that afflicts hermits who count their money, or Wall Street “fat cats,” none of whom we identify with. Therefore, greed is someone else’s problem, not ours. Anyone teaching or preaching on greed today must overcome the listeners’ rationalizations of why they are not greedy. We need images of greed that fit our generation.
One modern portrayal of greed is shopping. People joke about it all the time: with number stickers such as “shop until you drop,” shopaholic,” or simply “gone shopping.” Our greed is not counted in gold coins, but in pairs of shoes or tech items. We don’t keep the objects of our greed in bank accounts but in rental storage units because there is no longer any room in our homes. We find sweaters or shirts in the bottom of a drawer that we forgot we had purchased. Older relatives die and we find item after item in the house – unused and with the price tags still affixed. We can’t stop shopping or spending on ourselves. We must possess – and that impulse is greed.
The second way the greed of our generation expresses itself: the more we have the less we give. We convince ourselves we will be more generous when we have more, but statistics show that as we have more, we give away a decreasing percentage of what is ours. Does spending more on ourselves imply generosity or greed?
Greed is a product of fear, often the fear of not having enough. The financial industry preys on this fear all the time: you won’t have enough to retire, or to send children to college, etc.
Or fear may express itself as the anxiety of missing out on what everyone else has. Consider how many times we hear the word “deserve” in advertising. We deserve what others have, so we must spend on ourselves.
What a terrible way to live. The anxious life of greed reveals its toxic nature. It is a “deadly” sin because it murders joy.
Consider a better way:
Matthew 6: 25-34 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Trusting God is the antidote for greed.
Perhaps both are one and the same: the greed with which we cling to what we should let go, and the fear of letting go. Fear tells us that things might take a turn for the worse. A sparrow in one’s hand is better than a pigeon on the rooftop. I am sure of what I possess, but I am not so sure of what I shall receive upon letting go what I have. Emil Brunner in Sowing and Reaping, p. 31