August 4, 2019

18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

THE EPIDEMIC OF GREED
In today’s Gospel, a large crowd is gathered around Jesus. Someone tries to get Jesus to settle a family dispute. He says, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus declines and warns the people against greed saying, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus then tells them a parable about a man who most of us would probably admire.

The man in the parable is already wealthy. One particular year, he has such an exceptional harvest that he is left with a dilemma. He has a vast surplus that there is no place to store it all. “What should I do?” he asks himself. So, he makes the practical, conservative choice. He decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, with all this security, he figures he will have so many good things stored up for many years, that he can now “rest, eat, drink, be merry!” He can retire and take it easy. Isn’t this more or less the typical American dream? Make enough money to provide for security and comfort in your retirement years. By popular standards, this is a very wise man.

By God’s standards, the rich man has it all wrong. In the parable God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus, will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” The rich man’s attempt to provide security for his future ends almost immediately in utter futility. There are two obvious points here. First, it is foolish to make decisions in the present that do not realistically consider the possibilities of the future. Second, it is foolish to make material prosperity one’s main goal in life. This man has spent years amassing a fortune, and suddenly it will do him no good whatsoever. His life is over and all that he has will belong to someone else.

In the rich man’s defense, it is natural for us to want the security of being as prepared as possible for the future. We wisely buy insurance on our homes and our cars. We hold on to warranties. We put money aside for unforeseen eventualities. We do all this as our means allow. Without question there is a certain security in possessing resources in advance of actually needing them.

However, it is of such obvious and practical importance that it may gradually become our dominant or even our exclusive concern. When this happens, we lose sight of larger realities. In some of the most important areas of our life this kind of security is not only inappropriate, but, is impossible. Material wealth cannot secure our relationships, our health, or our sense of life’s meaning. Additionally, excessive concerns about material security can easily become counter-productive.

Who is more miserable than a miser? Misers hoard all they can for themselves with no concern at all for the needs of others. Following his parable, Jesus talked with his disciples about not being anxious about their lives and not to worry about such things as food and clothing. He encouraged them to seek God’s kingdom instead of their own security. Quit striving, he said, after those things everyone else is seeking. Your Father knows what you need. Strive after God’s kingdom, and “these other things will be given you besides.”

Greed is nothing new. It has been with us since we were created and is still going strong today. With social media, shifts in cultural attitudes have become so pervasive that they become almost invisible. What feeds the epidemic of cheating and lying that infects every level of society? How is it that we remain dissatisfied and restless, no matter how much we have?

The answer is greed. It leads political figures, business executives, and religious leaders into reckless acts of over-reaching. Greed creates unhealthy stress and ruthless competition in the workplace. It propels the expansion of illegal drug use and generates scam artists who prey on the elderly. Greed entices both young and old to line up for lottery tickets against overwhelming odds and to take other kinds of risks they would ordinarily not consider. It is an infectious disease that touches all of us and has a narcotic characteristic. It is addictive and more is never enough. Greed’s deception is that it convinces its victim that possessing more and more is the way to find satisfaction. The obsessive nature of greed, however, allows for no satisfaction. What can we do to escape its domination? Is there an antidote to offset the destructive power of greed?

The cure for greed is gratitude. Greed is thoroughly self-oriented, repeatedly insisting, “I want!” In greed the focus is on what I can get and possess for myself. Gratitude on the other hand is focused less on oneself and more on the source of life’s goodness and life’s gifts. Biblical faith rests largely on gratitude. We know the One from whom life, truth, and meaning come. How can we not be grateful? In gratitude to God we can escape the temptation of greed by doing what Jesus did and focus on others!
Deacon Bob

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