PENTECOST MOMENTS — AUGUST 3, 2010
‘THE MANY FACES OF GREED’
Last Sunday’s scripture readings were so perfectly coordinated. They were all about greed. We started with a reading from Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Then Psalm 90: “For all our days pass away … they are soon gone and we fly away.” Finally, we heard Jesus’ parable of the rich fool. Cheerful stuff! And very apropos to our world’s fixation with ‘stuff’ and with being productive and busy.
Here’s a perfect example of our culture’s obsession with greed: The news this week is that our economy is not recovering from the recession as well as we hoped. The chief sign of that? Not enough of us are going out and buying ‘stuff.’ In this culture, that’s a bad omen.
There are many kinds of greed: Greed for possessions, to accumulate as much ‘stuff’ as we can. There is greed for pleasures, greed to get things done; greed to have power; greed to be in control of our lives. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes (‘the preacher’) commented on our human tendency to work our whole lives in order to accumulate possessions. To paraphrase 2:20-23, he writes, “What’s the point? Someone works all his life — with wisdom and knowledge and skill — and he dies and has to leave it to someone else who didn’t work for it at all. Why do we do this? Our days are full of pain, our work is stressful, we can’t even sleep at night. It’s all vanity.”
“Teach us to number our days,” the Psalmist prays. We only have so long here on earth. Life passes by really quickly if we think about it from God’s perspective (“a thousand years is as a watch in the night”). Are we supposed to spend those years running after what the world says is important: money, status, stuff?
Jesus’ parable of the rich fool sums up the disparity between man’s perspective of life and God’s. The rich man has a bumper harvest and makes plans for stashing it safely away in bigger new barns, then retiring to enjoy his gains. But God ‘demands his life’ from him that very night. From the world’s point of view, this is totally unfair. What’s wrong with the man’s plans? He worked hard, probably all his life. He achieved a windfall through hard work and ingenuity. Why not leave the guy to enjoy his gains? But from God’s point of view, that might be the most harmful thing he could allow the man to do. We are not meant for this world; this is not our eternal destiny. If God allowed us to ‘rest on our laurels,’ as the rich man planned to do, we would become settled in this world, spiritually complacent. We would begin to die spiritually. God’s requiring the rich man’s life just when we was on the threshold of worldly achievement was a mercy — a severe mercy, but a mercy nonetheless.
Let’s talk about greed for the next week or so. Let’s talk about the many manifestations of greed in our culture and in our personal lives. Let’s talk about what sets off our greed, what tempts us to want things, to work ourselves into an exhausted state, to ignore our legitimate needs in favor of the world’s demands.
In the meantime, look over the three Scripture readings I refer to above:
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 2:21-26; 3:9-11a, 14; Psalm 90; and Luke 12:13-21.
Next time: Greed begins with looking. That’s where it all began in the Garden and where it continues to tempt us today.