A friend recently shared with me what happened at a community Christmas party they gave for refugees from a Middle Eastern country. When it came time to hand out the gifts to the children, chaos ensued.
Living here in a similar culture, I could easily envision the scene: the shoving and shouting and pushing forward, the disregard for the others in the crowd, the elbowing others away from the pile of gifts.
The geography of greed
Now lest you think that this behavior is limited to people from the Middle East [not that the thought would ever cross my mind], I just watched the movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which has an identical scene. Residents of Bedford Falls make a run on the Savings and Loan with the same shoving and gnashing of teeth.
Or think of trying to get on a subway at rush hour, or buy the season’s hottest fad at Walmart–or even get a pastry during coffee hour at our multicultural church. Public shovefests seem to be a fact of life everywhere in the world.**
An absence of greed
Jesus lived in a Middle Eastern culture too. I can imagine that as a boy He might have experienced this kind of chaos one day when there was a run on figs at the market And after His public ministry got into full swing, people were always shoving to get closer to Him, sometimes almost crushing Him [ Luke 8:42].
But there is one place in the gospels where there’s no mention of a jostling stampede and that’s the feeding of the 5000. Picture a huge crowd of hungry people from a culture where waiting one’s turn is not a value. Doesn’t it seem a real marvel that there’s no mention of people getting trampled?
Another marvel: everyone was provided for. Given our grabby human nature, I find it astounding that everyone “had their fill.” In other words, they were stuffed.
A third marvel: there were leftovers! Think about those baskets of extra pieces. Didn’t anyone take loaves and put them under their cloak so they could sell them on the journey home?
Maybe another miracle happened that day, a miracle even greater than feeding a crowd. Maybe Jesus changed people’s hearts so when the bread basket was passed around for the third time, they were able to resist the temptation to take some for the road.
Greed in me
I don’t know if that second miracle really happened that day. But I know I need Jesus to change my heart like that because over the last months, I’ve realized how greed runs rampant in me. Like an auto-immune virus, it infects my life at every level.
I take it as a sign of my material wealth that most of what I am greedy for is non-material. Yes, I’m greedy for money, but I’d give all my money to satisfy my greed for:
You may not ever see the voracious appetite I have for these things. I’ve been trained to stand politely in public. I know how to appear civil and humble, and not visibly ambitious. But inside I have the greed of Gollum, desperate for my precious.
Most of the time I’m not too concerned about how greed infects my life. I can go months or years not paying attention to it. That’s dangerous though because greed can do a lot of damage:
*Greed is time-consuming.
It eats up all of the hours in my day as I strive to get more. I can’t let up the pace, not for a moment. There’s no time for balance and rest.
*Greed is greedy.
It never has enough, never. I once met a person with two Mercedes, a ranch, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. But they didn’t feel rich because their neighbors had more. At the time, I remember privately rolling my eyes. But I’m no different. As a writer, I have much to be thankful for. I’ve published short stories and a book. But I find myself restless and discontent. Greed is always asking, “But what have you given me lately?” while it demands all of my energy, effort, and resources.
*Greed warps my heart.
With its driving desire that “I must get this or else–,” greed makes me thoughtless of others. It’s like I’m wearing blinders. Whether I manage to gain what I’m greedy for or keep grasping for it, I simply don’t see the people around me–unless they get in my way. But then I’m not seeing them as people, only as obstacles to be pushed aside or run over.
*Worst of all, greed leaves no room for God.
Jesus warned that we can’t serve God and money at the same time [Matthew 6:24]. And he told a pointed parable about a rich fool whose overriding fault was not being rich towards God [Luke 12]. When I fill my life with self, there’s no space for God. Instead of becoming wealthy, I end up poor where it matters most.
That’s why I need to release my death grip on greed. Somehow I have to pry my hand open, and trust God to put good things in it.
Honestly, I’m not sure how I can do this. How can I replace my drive to acquire more with the peaceful enjoyment of God’s abundance? What practical steps can I take?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
How have you been able to loosen the grip of greed in your life?
Or if greed isn’t one of your signature sins**, what wisdom do you have to share?
And how do you find ways to be rich towards God?
Links and Notes
**I do wonder if Germany and Switzerland and Japan have displays of public greed. Does any one have firsthand experience of this happening in one of those countries?]
**”Our signature sins become so familiar to us that we often trust them over the truth.
They become so precious to us that we even forget they are sins.” Michael Mangis