Contrary to 1980’s era pop culture and politics, Greed is not good. As one of the big baddies known as the Seven Deadly Sins Greed is a vice which threatens to poison our souls.
This is a sin that is universally condemned but is all over our consumer society. You see Avarice in investment firms that profited from subprime loans and in those who took the loans and were living beyond their means. Avarice drives shopping seasons,corporate greed, casinos and get rich quick schemes. If we are honest, we also know the ways Avarice has grabbed on to our hearts and caused us to want ‘just a little bit more.’ And Greed poisons everything we do and touch. Once upon a time there was a follower of Jesus who began skimming money from the treasury but when Avarice had poisoned his soul he sold his Lord for thirty more coins. Extreme I know, but we recognize the impulse in our own heart, and we recoil.
Avarice is the inordinate love of worldly wealth–the love of money and all that money can buy. When you and I see someone who is totally in the grips of this sin we rightly bemoan their sad estate. The problem is that it is in the water and our whole culture drives us to prioritize wealth. It promises it will buy us security, happiness, novelty, pleasure. And when I taste the fruits of the money tree and am dissatisfied, I reach for more, thinking the problem is ‘I just can’t get enough. No, I just can’t get enough.‘
When we greedily grab for the gold, we over-value temporal wealth but undervalue heavenly riches. We place a premium on our personal happiness but ignore everybody else. We amass wealth without a care for those who have nothing.
The sad thing is that when we read over the last paragraph, we think of other people’s Greed. But where has Greed grabbed hold of you? What are the things that if you thought you had, you would be happy? A new iPad? A car? A house? A bigger paycheck (or a paycheck)? None of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but when you reach for stuff to fulfill an inner need, Avarice sets up residence in your heart. And grows.
The way to counter the vice of Avarice is to develop counter practices which reign in your inner Trump. The Christian tradition suggests two such practices. Try these on: Simplicity and generosity.
Simplicity is means singleness of purpose. To borrow Kierkegaard’s phrase, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” A passionate pursuit of God’s Kingdom excludes the pursuit of other, lesser goods. We decide to go without so that we can pursue God more. When we feel the pull of riches and wealth, we amass for ourselves less, so that we can learn to love God more. This is a counter cultural discipline in one sense, but we also have seen the way our greedy consumption of the world’s resources has contributed to environmental problems and global poverty. By choosing to cultivate simplicity and countering Greed, we are saying we choose to no longer greedily consume and amass resources solely for our own gain.
Generosity (the counter virtue to Greed) trains us to give what we have for the good of others. This is why Christians tithe to their churches, not to make pastors rich but to loosen the grip of finances on our soul and set us free. Giving sets us free from the tyranny of Avarice. It frees us to love others and not just care for our own miserly selves.
May this season of Lent mark a shift for us, from consumption to compassion. As we walk the road to the cross, may we learn from Jesus who did not amass worldly wealth but poured out his life for us all.