Greed: A Meditation on an Underreported Sin

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

But honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and if we get more we want more still. This is the experience of greed.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. Greed is always something that other guy has.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other car we could be driving. And so even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is a deep drive of sin, one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for true needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

No, it’s the other guy who’s greedy; I’m not. It’s a problem that those nasty rich and powerful people have. Never mind that I’m pretty darned rich myself, living in a home with running water, air conditioning, and maybe even luxuries like granite countertops and widescreen TVs.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on greed? If you did, it was probably the priest talking about some abstract group of people (not those present, of course) who probably also hold the “wrong” political opinions, etc. Yes, greed is always someone else’s problem.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? I do understand that it’s good to have something laid up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

I realize that some of you who read this post will find it disturbing. So do I. These are uncomfortable questions.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I can or should earn, and how much I can or should give away. I am referring to a very personal moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs. But still, I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. Somewhere there’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

The Problem of Pot. A Reflection on the Increasing Legalization of Marijuana

012614It is perhaps emblematic of our decadent times that the two most noteworthy legal maneuvers of late, occupying significant time and resources of the the legislative and judicial branches are: providing legal recognition to homosexual unions, and the legalization of the smoking of marijuana. Welcome to the decadent West.

To these legal maneuvers it must be added to other ignominies of recent decades such as no-fault divorce and the horrifying legalization of the killing of the unborn; 53 million dead Americans and counting, plus the untold cost of the destruction of marriage and family as we once knew it.

Maybe there is a certain perverted “Logic” to wanting to legalize getting stoned. People after all need to medicate their anxious and bewildered souls! I say this, of course, tongue-in-cheek.

I think this is the first time I have commented on the increasing attempt to legalize the use and sale of marijuana “in small amounts.” Frankly, there are bigger issues. Most of us know that pot has been around for a while is probably here to stay. Nevertheless our insistence that we legalize its selling and use is not a healthy sign.

I suppose the libertarian in me says, “Why should the government care if people smoke a little weed. But the pragmatist in me says, “The last thing we need is a more widespread use of another mind altering drug that makes people, frankly, stupid.”

A few disclaimers, before I make my main point.

1. Some claim, that alcohol has caused far more harm than pot. This is probably so. But of course alcohol is more widely used, and that surely explains its more devastating effects in our culture. And it hardly makes sense to argue that sanctioning another legal mind altering drug will have little or no effect through traffic accidents and other deleterious behaviors. Of course it will, being out of our right mind is seldom going to produce good effects.

The bottom line is alcohol has been with us almost from the beginning, and is here to stay. It is in a different category that other drugs in that the Scriptures permit, even commend its moderate use, and Jesus made wine and used it for the sacrament of his Blood.

No one would argue that alcohol abuse is a good thing. Why add to the problem with pot?

2. Some say that legal sanctions are not the proper way to deal with drug use. To some degree it is reasonable to argue that incarcerating people with drug problems is not a wise approach. Perhaps it is these more punitive measures that need adjustment, rather then sanctioning the use of marijuana by the removal of most legal obstacles to its sale and use.

3. Some say that laws will not stop the use of pot, it is a cultural trend and people who want to use it will find a way. I will say that law has influenced me. Knowing that something is illegal and carries possible severe legal issues influences my thinking an helps my choice to stay away from such proscribed behaviors, not just with drugs, but other illegal activities too. I doubt I am alone. Law does have a pedagogical (educational) function.

4. I ought to say, I have never even tried pot. Frankly I have never even taken a drag on an ordinary cigarette, not even once. The thought of dragging filthy smoke into my lungs has never had any appeal to me. I like the smell of a good cigar or pipe, or incense but I have no interest in dragging that stuff into my lungs in large and literally choking quantities. That the anti-smoking zealots are not on the warpath about smoking dope is a puzzling silence and probably another example of the self-censorship of political correctness.

But on to the main point, Namely, a discussion I would like to have about the observed effects of marijuana use. I want to say that the reflections I offer, are anecdotal; they are not rooted in advanced statistical studies. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of interest in looking up the statistical surveys on pot use, most of which will be questioned by anyone who doesn’t like the results anyway. I am more interested in having a discussion here about the effects of marijuana use as I have observed them, and to inquire of your own experience with having either used marijuana, or observed others who do.

Some say that pot causes no harm. I disagree from about fifty + years of observation of what I have seen it do to others.

Back in high school (mid 70s) about 30% of the students in my Public High School of 3,500 students smoked dope regularly. They called in “partying” “getting stoned” or “getting high” in those days.

It wasn’t hard to know when someone started using marijuana. Almost instantly their over all attitude changed. Many who had been good students, engaged and talented, started to withdraw, and adopt a passive aggressive stance.

Regular pot use by them, from my observation, caused a kind of lethargy, a sort of laid-back, who-cares attitude often mixed in with a non-complaint resistance: “Hey man, I ain’t got to go to the man’s class…”

The look on the face of pot users came to seem vacant and dull, their eyes glazed and unfocused. Their posture became slouchy, clothing and hygiene suffered. Absenteeism and tardiness increased. And when they were in class at all, they weren’t really engaged or alive. Their faces tended to take on a kind of hang-dog look, jaw half open, hands in their pocket, shirt untucked; they seemed bored with life, and uninterested. Frankly, they seemed “medicated.”

Generally grades dropped and anti-social tendencies increased. Some who had once played sports withdrew when drugs entered. Membership in other clubs also ceased and was replaced with hangin’ out in the smoking court, a place (in those days) set aside for students who smoked cigarettes.

Now mind you these were the after-effects of pot use. I am not saying they were “high” all the time. But long after the high was gone, these lethargic symptoms lingered and became a rather stable part of their disposition.

Except for those who are in more advanced stages of alcohol abuse, the effects of the alcohol abate after intoxication passes (plus perhaps a brief hangover). But pot seems different, it seems to alter the personality more “stably” so that the user is dull even when not high.

Some may call this dullness by more positive labels such as being laid-back, carefree, or cool. But I am sorry, I have seen spiritually serene people, and they don’t come across as medicated. What a spiritually serene person manifests is worlds apart from the dulled medicated look of pot smokers.

Now as I say, this is my anecdotal testimony. But I offer it with fifty-two years experience, 25 of them as a priest and counselor.

Pot is no good. It messes with your mind on a semi-permanent basis, causes lethargy, dullness and makes you unmotivated. Getting “high” introduces a kind of dull and low bottom dwelling when the “high” is gone.

Don’t do drugs. Pot is not harmless, it will change your personality and make you dull of mind and heart. It introduces stinking thinking.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law. (# 2291)

This is pretty unambiguous and something a Catholic ought to take to heart before saying the legalization of drugs is no big deal. And while many say pot is harmless, my experience of observing others is that it is not harmless at all.

How say you? What have you observed?

This song by Joe Walsh was a favorite in the late 70s and celebrated drug use, but also illustrated the fogged in, confused and anti-social tendencies that resulted from it. Perhaps the most classic line from this song is: I go to parties, sometimes until four. It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door.  Vacant, empty and stinking thinking.

Is Anger Always a Sin?

101313Some one wrote in the following question:

How would you respond to a someone who (in Zen like fashion) states that anger is always counterproductive? Is anger always a sin?

The simple answer is “No, anger is not always a sin.” In fact, in some situations anger is the appropriate response. If anger were always a sin, the Jesus never got the memo since he displays quite a lot of anger in the Gospels. We’ll look at that in a moment.

To being with, some distinctions are in order.

  1. We ought first to distinguish between the internal experience or feeling of anger and the external manifestation of it.The internal expereince of anger as a passionate response to some external stimulus is not sinful since we cannot usually and immediately control the arising of feelings or passions. Anger usually arises out of some sense of threat. It signals us that something is wrong, threatening or inappropriate as we understand or interpret the data. Sometimes our perceptions are incorrect but often they are not. Anger, in this sense, is not only sinless, but necessary as it alerts us to the need to respond to something that is a threat or unjust and it gives us the energy to address it. In this sense, it is not sinful. It is a passion and an energy to set things right or to address a threatening situation.
  2. Now it is possible that our anger can arise from less than holy reasons. Some of the things we fear, we should not fear. Some of our fears are rooted in pride, and an inordinate need for status and affirmation. Some of our fears come from misplaced priorities. For example we may be excessively concerned with money, property, popularity or material things. And this concern triggers inordinate fears about things that should not matter so much. And this fear gives rise to feeling easily threatened at loss or diminishment. This in turn triggers anger, since we sense that something is wrong or threatening. But we ought not be so concerned with such things since they are rooted in pride, vanity and materialism. In this case the anger may have a sinful dimension but the sin is more rooted in the inordinate and sinful drives than merely the anger itself. This is because, even when anger arises from poor motives or objects, it is still not something all that voluntary.
  3. Now external manifestations of anger can and do sometimes have a sinful dimension when they are beyond what is reasonable. If I am experiencing anger there may be little or no sin in that. However if I express that anger by hurling insults, or physically attacking someone I may well have sinned by a sinful expression of my anger. Even here there can be exceptions. It may be appropriate at times to physically defend myself. I can think of no exception to the rule against hurling insults and personal attacks. However, it remains true that we live in thin-skinned times and people often take personal offense when they should not. We will see in a moment that Jesus did not often hesitate to describe his opponents’ in rather vivid ways.
  4. Hence, of itself, anger is not a sin.The Scriptures say, Be angry but sin not (Ps 4:4) So anger is not the sin. However, the expression of anger may become sinful. Further, it is possible that some of our anger springs from less than holy sources.

When is the external manifestation of anger an appropriate response? Most simply put, anger is appropriate when its object is appropriate and reasonable.

For example, it is appropriate to experience anger when we see or experience injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. harnessed appropriate anger of Americans toward the injustice of racism. He elicited it, and focused its energy in productive ways. Notice that he was very careful to teach against violence and revenge. Anger did not to give the Civil Rights Protesters the right to hate. What Dr. King did was to elicit a just anger on the part of many Americans. This anger in turn gave them the motivation to act creatively and energetically to resist injustice and effect change through non-violence. This sort of angry response was appropriate, reasonable and even holy. The tradition of non-violent resistance to injustice remains strong in those who protest abortion, and other sins, crimes and social injustices. It is the anger that motivates the desire to speak and the zeal to take action to rectify injustice.

Anger is also appropriate and even necessary in some forms of fraternal correction. To fail to manifest some level of anger may lead to the false conclusion that the offense in question is not really all that significant. For example if a child belts his brother in the mouth and knocks out a tooth a parent ought to manifest an appropriate amount of anger to make it very clear that this sort of behavior is intolerable. To gently correct a child in a smooth and dispassionate way with no inflection in the voice can lead to the impression that this really isn’t so bad. Proper anger has a way of bringing the point home and making a lasting impression. Again, note that the anger in question should be at a proper level, not excessive, and not too weak. This of course requires a good bit of self-mastery.

Meekness– And this leads us to an important beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit which helps us to master anger: Meekness. In modern English, meekness has lost its original vigor and tends to signify a person who is a bit of a pushover and easily taken advantage of. But, in its original meaning, meekness describes the vigorous virtue wherein one gains authority over their anger. Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης ) as the mean between being too angry, and not being angry enough. As we have noted, there is a place and a need for anger. The meek person has authority over their anger. They are able to summon its energy but control its extremes. Hence the meek are far from weak. They are the string ones who have gained authority over their anger. St. John Chrysostom says in this regard: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices. (Homily 11). St Thomas Aquinas says: Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason (II, IIae 158.8).

What of Jesus? One the one hand Jesus seems to have taught very strongly against anger:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt 5:21-22)

On the face of it it would seem that Jesus condemns anger without exception. However, if that is the case then Jesus broke his own rule for he exhibited a lot of anger in the Gospels. What Jesus DOES clearly condemn here is unrighteous and wrathful anger. Notice that he give two examples of the kind of anger he means. The first example is to use the term of contempt: Raca. This term is hard to translate so it is simply rendered in the Aramaic. Essentially what it means to do is to strip a person of any dignity and to regard them with utter contempt. Notice that Jesus links this kind of anger to murder since, by it, the other person is so stripped of any human dignity that to murder them is no different than killing an ox or mule. This sort of anger depersonalizes the other and disregards them as a child of God. The term fool; has a similar, though less egregious, purpose. Hence, it would seem that the Lord is not condemning all anger her but rather the anger of contempt and depersonalization. To absolutize Jesus’ teaching here to include any anger would seem unreasonable given what we have said above and it would also call into question Jesus’ own example which includes not a little anger.

Most people are familiar with Jesus’ anger in the cleansing of the temple. But there are other places as well where he manifest not a little anger:

Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matt 23:29-33)

Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire! He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God!” ( John 8:44-47)

Passages like these do not exhibit the “Mr Rogers” kind of Jesus common in the modern imagination. Jesus was no “Caspar Milquetoast.” His vigorous anger is also on display in the video below.

What to make of these angry displays?

  1. Not sinful – Clearly they are not sinful displays of anger since the scriptures assure us that Jesus never sinned (e.g. Heb 4:15).
  2. There may be an important cultural dimension to remember here. In the culture of the ancient Jews there seems to have been a wider acceptance of the expression of anger than in our own American setting. Even in America there is a wide variance in the acceptance of anger. I once dated an Italian girl in college and she and her mom could really set to it: lots of loud shouting in Italian! And then in a moment it was over and they were on to the next topic. In their family anger was a more accepted expression than in the typical American setting. The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also an expression more acceptable than our culture would usually permit. Turning over the tables etc. was a “prophetic action.” Prophets did things like this. In that culture it was more acceptable than perhaps in ours. But even we find a place for civil disobedience. We may not always like it, but we respect that it has a place in our culture.
  3. Yet Jesus clearly is angry. He is grieved at the hard heartedness of his opponents and his strong tone is an authoritative summons to repent. A lowered and lyrical voice might not convey the urgency of the situation. These are hardened men and there is a need for pointed and passionate denunciation. This is righteous anger.
  4. We ought to be careful before simply taking up Jesus angry tone for two reasons. First, he was able to see into their hearts and properly conclude as to the proper tactics necessary. We may not always be able to do this. Secondly, the wider Western culture in which many of us live may not be as prepared to accept such an angry tone. It may be a less effective tactic in our setting and prudential judgment is a necessary precursor to using such tactics.

But in the end, anger is not, ipso facto, sinful or wrong. It is sometimes the proper and necessary response. We do well to be careful with our anger, for it is an unruly passion. We ought to see above all the fruit of the Spirit which is meekness and ask to Lord ot give us authority over our anger and a prudence as to its effective use.

This video shows Jesus’ anger:

A remedy for Pride based on something Jesus told St. Catherine of Siena

090113We live in times collectively marked by pride. And, while pride is a problem of the human condition that has beset us from the very beginnings of paradise lost, our modern age, with the rise of atheism, rejection of God, scorn for the metaphysical, and a hyper-emphasis of the “autonomous” self, pride has taken an even more prominent place.

Largely absent from the modern psyche is any deep notion that we are contingent beings, radically dependent on things, people and factors outside our “autonomous” self. Even before we bring God into the discussion, we seem less aware today that our existence and capacity to survive is deeply rooted in thousands, if not millions of factors outside us and beyond our immediate control.

Thank God (oops, did I say that?!), that your parents met, and your great grandparents, and your great, great, great, great…grandparents met, in all the combinations necessary for you to exist. Otherwise, no you!

And let us not forget the trillions of other things necessary for all those human combinations to have happened. The earth has kept its almost perfect circular orbit at just the right distance from the Sun; the Sun and all that is necessary for its working has kept its stable burn, with no big flares or dimishments; the Van Allen belts have been up and running in the high atmosphere to deflect harmful radiation from the earth; the asteroid belt has collected asteroids and kept then from hurling on earth, Jupiter and Saturn are out there catching comets for us and keeping them away; every part of every cell of your body is functioning at a high rate of success, every molecule, and every atom too….well you get the point. We are very contingent beings.

To say that we are contingent beings is to say that our existence is not necessary, does not explain itself, and is the result of other factors and people, not us. Our existence is neither necessary, likely, nor even all that predictable.

We have discussed on the blog before that, according to the playful (but probably understated) odds of a mathematician the probability of you or I existing at all is 1 in 102,685,000. That’s a number so huge it hurts to think about it. (More on that article here: On the “Non-Probability” of your existence). There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” We are contingent, VERY contingent.

Our existence, is astonishingly unlikely and I would say miraculous. That you or I am here at all is almost inexplicable, given the number of things and people necessary for us to exist.

Even before one brings God into the picture, a little humility is called for here based on how remarkably contingent and dependent we are are. For all the braggadocio of modern man, and all our talk about autonomy, Nietzschean Existentialism, “uberman”, self-determination,  self-referentialism and all other anthropocentric, prideful and bold assertions, we look pretty pathetic, when we realize how dependent and contingent we really are.

In a certain sense we barely exist at all, so dependent are we on things and people outside our self. If you can read this, thank a teacher, If you exist at all thank ten trillion (I am not exaggerating) other factors, forces and people.

And how about thanking God? Frankly everything that exists in this created world is contingent and highly unlikely by itself.  At some point everything cannot exist based on nothing. There must be some one or something that is “existence itself” and does not depend on, or stand on anything, or anyone before it. And that something, that someONE we call God.

God is not some other thing in the universe, or even outside the universe. He is existence itself. To deny the existence of a non-contingent being is to deny yourself, for something cannot ultimately stand on nothing. There has to be a foundation that depends on nothing else to stand, that explains itself. For other things to subsist, there must be one who exists, who is existence itself. And that someone we call God.

All of this came to mind the other day as I was reading The Life of St Catherine of Siena by her confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua. In that work he relates a conversation that St. Catherine had with Jesus (which Catherine also relates in the Dialogue). In this conversation Jesus reminds Catherine of her contingency and dependance. He also gives Catherine the secret of overcoming pride so that our ancient enemy will never outwit us. Blessed Raymond recounts the dialogue of Jesus with Catherine in this way:

The holy Virgin told her confessors, of who, though unworthy, I was one, that, at the beginning of her visions, when the Lord Jesus Christ first began to appear to her, he said, “Do you know, daughter, who you are, And who I am? If you know these two things, you will be blessed. You are she is not; whereas I am He who is. Have this knowledge in you and the enemy will never deceive you…

[Blessed Raymond continues]: A succinct doctrine… Oh, Immeasurable wisdom, wrapped in a few brief syllables…”You,” said the Lord, “are she who is not.” Indeed, all creatures are made from nothing, for “to create” means to make something from nothing. When creatures are left to themselves they tend to return to nothing, and if the creator ceased for one moment to preserve them in existence, they would rapidly be reduced to nothing again. … The Apostle says, “…for if any man think himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). … And Jesus says “For without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

And [Blessed Raymond continues] here is a healing remedy, for what wound of pride can enter into a soul that knows itself to be nothing? Who can glory in anything he does? And thus, all vices are driven out by the words, “You are not”.

And here too are many anxieties diminished. For, as Blessed Raymond attests, “Whenever I or any of the other friars was afraid of any danger, Catherine would say, “What have you to do with yourselves? Leave it to Divine Providence. However much afraid you are, Providence still has his eyes on you and is always aiming at your salvation.[Pages 62-65, selected verses].

And thus, a sense of our contingency, that compared to God, you and are “are not”;  is a remedy for pride. In an era of pride, of a false and excessive sense of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and that we can “craft” reality and answer to no one, a simple reminder of our contingency is essential.  And here it is given and it is put in a way that only a Saint can relate: “You are she who is not… I (the Lord) am He who IS.”

Have this knowledge in you you and you will be blessed, and the ancient enemy will never deceive you. For by this knowledge is the back of pride broken and is the basis for all humility formed.

Investment Advice from St Basil the Great

080413Sunday’s Gospel on generosity and the need to renounce greed, is reflection worth continuing. Last week in the Breviary St. Basil the Great (in Hom. De caritate, 3, 6: PG 31, 266-267, 275) provided a reflection that amounts to an investment strategy not just for the near future of old age, but for eternity. Challenging though the saint’s thoughts are, they are also consoling and sensible. Lets listen to his instruction.

Out of no intended disrespect for the saint, I would like to add some of my own comments in plain red text along with his reflections, and to adjust the order of his remarks just a bit. His teaching is in bold, black italics. To read his commentary fully and in order click here: On Generosity

And thus St. Basil begins with a challenge, rooted in a blessing:

Man should be like the earth and bear fruit; he should not let inanimate matter appear to surpass him. The earth bears crops for your benefit, not for its own, but when you give to the poor, you are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them.

So, St Basil begins with a “humbling” challenge: Do not let dirt (humus) be more virtuous and profitable than you! In a way it is a play on the Lord’s image that if we who are called to be Salt of the Earth become flat, we are good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (cf Matt 5:13). 

But in a magnificent description of grace and mercy, St Basil contrasts the comparison and reminds us that God in his mercy allows his grace to become our merit. That is to say, God, who will never be outdone in generosity will surely not let our deeds of mercy go unrewarded, even though these deeds are really the result of his grace, not our own unaided flesh. God will never forget the mercy we have shown and if we stay in the grace of friendship with him as a member of Christ Body, we will surely not loose our reward. And thus Scripture says,

  1. Give and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38) 
  2. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy! (Matt 5:7).
  3. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Prov 19:17). 
  4. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Prov 11:25)

Yes, always remember, generosity to the poor will be rewarded by God to those who remain faithful. Fear not to be generous for God will not be outdone by us in generosity. He will reward, he will repay!

And thus, St Basil continues:

Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. As the sower profits from wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from the bread that you place before a hungry man….In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.

And here St. Basil invokes the “investment strategy” given by the Lord Himself who said,

  1. Mat 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
  2. Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
  3. And echoed by St. Paul: Command [the wealthy] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

And so here is given to us a good investment strategy. Namely, that we should store up our treasure in heaven so that, not only will it not be harmed or stolen, but also that it will be for blessing on the day of judgment!

It works like this: We store up treasure in heaven, not by putting it in some sort of balloon or rocket and sending it up, rather, we store it up in heaven by placing it in the hands of the needy and poor. What we generously give does not just go out and away, it goes UP and is “stored” in heaven for us, where it earns heavenly interest (as our Saint here notes). Scripture says, Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

But not only is it “stored up” in heaven, but it also acts as an assurance on the day of judgment. Jesus says in the quote above that we ought to make friends for ourselves through out generous use of money.

Who are these friends? The poor! The needy! They are our investment brokers for the day of judgment and the world to come. The Lord says that when our wealth ultimately fails us (and it will fail us at death which we cannot buy our way of) they (i.e. the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings!

Imagine that on the day of judgment as you go before the Judgment Seat, multitudes of poor crying out, “Have mercy on this one Lord, for he was merciful to us!” Ah, what a blessed sound that will be! And the Lord hears the cry of the poor. I don’t know about you, But I am going to need a few folks praying and testifying for me on Judgement Day, and the poor and needy will be important advocates.

Yes, the Lord says, they (the poor) will welcome you to eternal dwellings and  St. Paul affirms that the wealthy who bless the poor will lay up a firm foundation for the coming age.

So listen to your heavenly investment broker Jesus, who says, be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). Listen also to Jesus’ fellow investment analysts, St. Paul and St Basil, who insist that we will lay a firm foundation for the day of judgment and profit greatly in the World to come.

To be sure, generosity to the poor will NOT be the only thing we are judged on, but it sure will help on that DAY, standing before the Lord,  if we loved the poor and needy! And frankly, most of us are going to need every help we can get.

You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works.

And here St. Basil echoes Scripture which says, Henceforth, Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Let them rest from their labors, for their good deeds go with them. Even so, saith the Spirit (Rev 14:13)

Do you not see how people throw away their wealth on theatrical performances, boxing contests, mimes and fights between men and wild beasts, which are sickening to see, and all for the sake of fleeting honor and popular applause? If you are miserly with your money, how can you expect any similar honor?

Pay attention here. We do well to ask if we throw a lot of money away on passing, foolish or empty things. What are our versions of “theatrical performances,” “boxing contests” etc.?

Look, the Lord is not telling us never to go and see a movie, or sports event. But if we so easily spend money on this stuff, why not things that matter more and profit eternally?

And we ought to be careful with the many excesses of the modern age that often go unremarked. Most people older than 50 or so, who were middle class, grew up in a home of 1200 – 1500 square feet, had larger family sizes, and did just fine. Is it really necessary that homes today should routinely be 3500+ square feet with great rooms, cathedral ceilings, entertainment centers, and granite counter tops? Is it really that necessary? And why?

Again I am not trying to make lots of rules for you. I live in a nice rectory, generously bestowed and maintained by the people of God. St Paul also says, elsewhere, that our care of others ought not gravely harm us (cf 2 Cor 8:13). But honestly, don’t a lot of us have questions to ask in these affluent times about some of the excesses of the American Dream?

And if you choose to make such purchases, I am not your judge in this matter, or you mine. But surely we all have questions to ask ourselves. Is everything I want really needed?  And, more importantly, does my extravagance harm the poor and needy? Further, is my use of money wise, from an eternal perspective?

You decide, but these are questions we all ought to ask.

Your reward for the right use of the things in this world will be everlasting glory, a crown of righteousness, and the kingdom of heaven; God will welcome you, the angels will praise you, all men who have existed since the world began will call you blessed. Do you care nothing for these things, and spurn the hopes that lie in the future for the sake of your present enjoyment?

Amen! What is more important to us, comfort here, or glory there?

Come, distribute your wealth freely, give generously to those who are in need. Earn for yourself the psalmist’s praise: He gave freely to the poor; his righteousness will endure for ever. – Yes

How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how you should beam with joy at the honor of having other people come to your door, instead of being obliged to go to theirs! But you are now ill-humored and unapproachable; you avoid meeting people, in case you might be forced to loosen your purse-strings even a little. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope for eternal happiness.

My, my my! Don’t be poor in things eternal, don’t be poor in what matters to God.

This song says, “You may have all this world….Give me Jesus.”

You Can’t Take it with You, But You Can Send it on Ahead! Five teachings on Wealth from the Gospel of the 18th Sunday of the Year.

080313The Gospel today is not merely a warning against greed, it is an instruction on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. As the Gospel opens the problem of greed is presented, and then a prescribed perspective about wealth is offered. Lets take a look at both parts of this gospel.

I. The Problem that is Portrayed – The text begins:  Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Note that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid personally indicting the man of something of which all can all be guilty), and warns without ambiguity that greed must be guarded against. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is to want possessions inordinately, beyond what is reasonable or necessary.

Greed is often downplayed today where accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth is often celebrated.  Great rooms with cathedral ceilings, 72″ flat screen TVs and even private home theaters (entertainment centers), fancy cars etc., are shamelessly flaunted.

But greed is at the root of a lot of evils and suffering. Scripture says,

For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:7-10)

Note that these are very strong words. Greed causes us to be discontented and ungrateful, both of which are forms of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into a snare or trap that sets loose the pangs of many harmful desires which seem to expand in ever increasing ways. And this desire for more and more too easily leads us to personal destruction, and to inflict great harm, insensitivity  and injustice on others.

On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough, I will give away the rest or use it for others.” Many also wander from the faith since wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they have “too much to loose.” Hence the faith is set aside in favor of the world, greed overrules God and the demands of the gospel.

The Lord will develop more of this in the parable ahead. But for now note that the Lord warns about the serious and destructive problem of greed. This is the problem that is portrayed.

II. The Perspective that is Prescribed – But the Lord does not simply condemn greed. He next goes on to tell a parable which strives to give a proper perspective about wealth. In itself, wealth is not evil. But without a proper perspective, we too easily fall into greed. Hence the Lord gives five teachings on wealth to help us keep it in perspective and avoid greed.

A. The INITIATION of Wealth – The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 

Notice that the subject of the sentence is the land, not the man. It was the land, not the man who yielded the increase. And hence, whatever we have has come from God and what God has given. Scripture says,

  1. Deuteronomy 8:18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth
  2. Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;
  3. James 1:17  Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
  4. 1 Cor 4:7 What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

As such wealth is not bad or evil. But, in all our things, we must never forget that God is the true owner and we are the stewards. An old song says, God and God alone created all these things we call our own: From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.

God gives the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but God remains the owner. And as stewards we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what God, the true owner wills. Too easily we forget this and usher in many woes on account of wealth.

And what is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism speaks of God’s will as the “Universal Destination of Goods:”

God gave all the goods of the earth for all the people of the earth. This means that the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race…In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (Catechism 2402, 2404)

If we will remember that we are stewards of God’s gifts, and that he ultimately intends all to be blessed, we can understand that greed is a form of theft, for it inordinately clings to what should be given to another out of justice. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.

Remembering that the initiation of my wealth is God, I can help to avoid greed by using my wealth for the purposes God gave it. It is not just for me, it is for all the people of this earth.

B. The INCONVENIENCE of wealth– the Parable continues, He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?

The man sees his wealth and because he does not consider generosity an option, is somehow burdened by it: “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. To be honest, great wealth brings comfort but  it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go with wealth:  locks, insurance, keys, alarms, storage facilities, worries, fears, repairs, maintenance, upgrades, cleaning, utilities, etc. We live in an affluent age but consider the stress. Consider also the loss of other more important values, we have bigger houses but smaller families, and our McMansions are really more houses than homes.

Scripture says,

  1. Eccl 5:12 The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.
  2. Prov 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.
  3. Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
  4. Ecc 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

So, wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences which make our lives stressful and complicated. Better to be free of great or excessive wealth in accord with God’s will than to be burdened and inconvenienced by it. Here is another perspective that helps us avoid greed.

C. The ILLUSION of wealth- The parable goes on to say,  And [the man] said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

And here we are taught that riches easily lead us to an illusion of self sufficiency. We start to rely on self, and on riches, instead of God. But as we shall see the man’s wealth will utterly fail him before the night is out.

Riches can buy us out of temporary troubles, but cannot help with the central problem we face. No amount of money on this earth can postpone our appointment with death and judgment. Riches can get us a first class cabin on the ship, but on the “Titanic” of this earth we are no more set than the people in steerage. Indeed, because of the illusion it creates, wealth will more likely hinder us in our final passage. For it is only in trusting in God that we can make it to the other shore. But too much wealth and self reliance hinders our capacity to call on the Lord and trust him. Yes, wealth tends to create an illusion which cripples us from reaching our goal.  Scripture says:

  1. Ps 49:12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
  2. 1 Tim 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
  3. Prov 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
  4. James 1:11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
  5. Prov 30:8 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

An old gospel song says, Well the way may not be easy, but you never said it would be. Cause when my way get’s a little too easy you know I tend to stray from thee.

The illusion of riches is well illustrated in the modern age. Our wealth has tended to make us less religious. Less dependent on God. But really, can all our wealth and power, technology and science ultimately save us? We know it can not.

Yet strangely we entertain the illusion of wealth anyway. And we think, like the man in the parable, “Now I’ve got it, now I’m set.” This is an illusion, a set up. And coming to see it for the illusion that it is will help us avoid greed.

D. The INSUFFICIENCY of wealthBut God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’

And thus we see the illusion give way to the reality of insufficiency. Scripture says,

  1. Psalm 49:5 There are men who trust in their wealth and boast of the vastness of their riches. But no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beast that perish.
  2. Mat 16:26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Money, wealth, power popularity and prestige can never really get us what we need. And it’s not just money, We have sought so many saviors in this world thinking they can somehow save us:

  1. SCIENCE can’t you save me? No I can’t save you I can tell you how far it is from the earth to the sun I can tell you how to sail in rocket ships up to outer space. But I can’t tell you how to climb to heaven I can’t save you.
  2. PHILOSOPHY can’t you save me? No I can’t save you I can tell you more and more about less and less until you know everything about very little. I can tell you about the greatest thoughts and opinions of the greatest thinkers But I can’t save you.
  3. EDUCATION can’t you save me? No I can’t save you I can make you smart. But I can’t make you wise I can’t save you.
  4. CULTURE can’t you save me?! No I can’t save you. I can make the world a more beautiful and entertaining place to go to hell from. But I can’t save you.
  5. ECONOMICS, can’t you save me?! No I can’t save you. I can make you richer But not rich enough to buy your salvation I can’t save you.
  6. POLITICS, can’t you save me?! No I can’t save you. I can give you power and access to worldly power But the word as we know it is passing away I can’t save you.

At the end of the day, all this world and all its riches cannot save us. Only God can do this. Here too is another perspective on wealth that helps us avoid greed.

E. The INSTRUCTION about wealth – The parable concludes:  Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

As we have already remarked, wealth is not intrinsically evil. It is our greed that is sinful and gets us into trouble. And greed clings to wealth unreasonably and excessively. With greed we “store up treasure for our self and are not rich in what matters to God.”

So, what matters to God? What matters is that we be rich in justice, mercy, love, holiness and truth, that we be generous sharers of the bounty he bestows. And thus the Lord teaches us to generously share what we have over and above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings:

  1. Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
  2. Mat 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
  3. 1 Tim 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

There is an old saying: “You take it with you.” And this is true, but only partially. The Lord suggests that we can send our wealth on ahead, that we can store it up in heaven, that we can invest it in eternity. How? Do we put our gold in a balloon and float it up? No, we send it up, we send it on ahead by bestowing it on the poor and needy. This can include our children and family members, for Charity begins at home. But it does not end there. Thus our generosity should extend beyond the family to many of the poor.

If we do this the Lord teaches that the poor we bless will welcome us to heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat. The Lord says when we bless the poor our treasure will be great, and safe in heaven. Further, our generosity and mercy will benefit us greatly on the day of judgment and help us, as St. Paul says above, lay hold of the life that is truly life.

So, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

Therefore, this final teaching or perspective on wealth is to be rich in what matters to God by being generous, not greedy.

And thus we have five teachings on wealth meant to give us perspective, so as to avoid greed.

And trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone in generosity! And while our greatest rewards remain in heaven, God sends “interest payments” even now upon the generous. Scripture says,

  1. Prov 11:24 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.A generous man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
  2. Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you.
  3. Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give, will be the measure you get back.”

Since you can’t take it with you, you might as well send it on ahead. Guard against greed by allowing these five teachings on wealth to give you a proper perspective on wealth.

On The Human Tendency to "postpone" the Resurrection. A Meditation on Something Jesus said to St. Martha

072913In the Gospel of Monday of this week, the Feast of St. Martha, there is an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Martha. Martha begins by saying, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you. And thus Martha expresses her faith and hope in Jesus. But Jesus seeks to draw her out a bit and to get her to focus her faith in the moment. And thus the dialogue between them continues:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life…(John 11:22-23)

In this exchange St Martha articulates a common human tendency to “futurize” the blessings of God. And thus when Jesus speaks of her brother rising, she says, as we all do in effect: “Yes, I know that there will be blessings for me in some distant, and future heaven.”

But Jesus interjects, saying, “I AM the resurrection.” Notice that he does not say, “I will be the resurrection.” In effect he says to her and to us, “I am your resurrection to new life now, not merely in a future heaven. The new life, the eternal life, the life of grace that I died to give you is available to you now. Yes, even at this very moment a whole new way of living, a new and transformed life is available to you.”

Yes Jesus is our resurrection. We have already died and risen with him to the new life he offers. St Paul says in Romans:

All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

So eternal life is now. Surely it will be full in heaven. But it began at our baptism, continues now and, if we are faithful, continues to grow. The phrase “eternal life” does not merely specify the length of life, but also the fulness of life.

Of this I am a witness. At age 52 my body is older, but my soul is more alive than I ever was at 22. I am more confident, more serene, more joyful and prayerful, more aware of God and more loving of God and neighbor. I have seen sins put to death and many new graces and talents come alive. I am more alive at 52 than I have ever been before. And wait till you see me at 82!

And thus Jesus says to St. Martha, and to us: “I AM the resurrection. The life I offer you is now.”

Yet, so easily we can either doubt this, or even seek to defer it. Perhaps we doubt it on account of some struggles or suffering we are currently enduring. Or perhaps we are discouraged by a lack of progress in some area of our life. And so some of us in weakness doubt that the new and eternal life is now.

But our deferring of new and resurrected life is more pernicious for it is rooted in sloth. Too easily we can slip into a kind of excuse-making disposition that prefers to focus on our present limits than on God’s present gifts. And so we will think or say: “I am not responsible for my failings. My mother dropped me on my head when I was two, and my Father was mean….I am only human after all and I am going through a few things now.”

Whether they are true or not, focusing on our present limits and past wounds provides an easy out for the demands of our higher calling. For, if it is true that Jesus has brought us to a new and more glorious life and has set us free, with that freedom and life comes a greater responsibility and higher expectations. But all that is “too much trouble” and so we flee from it and prefer to see heaven and eternal (full) life as something off in the distant future.

This is sloth, namely sorrow, sadness or aversion at the good things God is offering. Rather than to joyfully accept the new life God offers, we draw back into the lesser but more familiar doldrums of mediocrity where excuses and lower expectations dominate.

To all this, Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection.” That is, “Begin now. Lay hold of the life I died to give you. Do not be satisfied with anything less that the vigorous transformation I offer you beginning now! Why not become totally fire?!”

St Martha thought of the blessings only in some future context. It is doubtful that she thought this merely in sloth for she was shocked and saddened by the death of her brother and not yet heir to the gospel as fully preached.

But we too often DO postpone heaven for slothful reasons. And like the Ancients Jews who often seemed to prefer the slavery of Egypt (with its fleshpots and melons and leeks) to the freedom of the desert with its challenges and responsibilities.

Again to us us Jesus offers this simple declaration and invitation: “I AM (now) the resurrection….Do you believe this?”

Beware of sloth and pray for joy at what God offers and zeal to lay hold of it.

And Now for Something really silly:

On the self-consuming caused by Greed, as seen in a humorous video

071913The humorous video below well illustrates some of the following lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and a chasing after the wind….Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is vanity. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Eccles 4:5-6, 5:9-11).

Yes, it is too easily a sad truth that the more we get, the more we want. And even though we begin to discover that our greed robs us of our peace, and brings many discomforts and inconveniences, still we run after it! Too rare are those who learn to be satisfied with less in order to enjoy it. And too many are those who crave more and more, but in their pursuit, enjoy what they have less and less.

Consider how some, in their pursuit of the “American Dream” crave the big house in the suburbs: Ah the “great-room” with cathedral ceilings, the tray ceiling in the master bedroom with its “on-suite” master bath, jacuzzi tub, double sinks, granite counter-tops, the his-and-her walk-in closets….well you get the point.

But having all this comes at a price. The suburbs bring nightmarish commutes. Hefty mortgage payments erode income. And even those who can afford the payments, often did not factor in the cost of maintenance, insurance, security, the cost of commuting, and the cost of heating and cooling the 2500-4000 square foot “dream home.”

Bills mount, debt increases, fears and sleeplessness sets in. Arguments about money and upgrades multiply. Perhaps a part time job must be taken, or a young mother must work to afford the “dream.” Commuting parents working extra hours barely know their children who are raised by strangers, daycare workers, school officials, and the media. Concerns multiply, sleep decreases, anger and strife flare.

And though the “dream” is clearly a nightmare, greed demands still more. The thought of selling, and buying a smaller home and being satisfied, seems quite impossible for too many.

The thus, as the biblical text above says, “the fool folds his arms” that is, he doubles down and stubbornly refuses any true assessment of the vanity of riches, and the inconvenience and headache they bring.

This video below humorously illustrates this biblical insight. A man walking the street sees a valuable 10 Pound note stuck beneath the tire of a car. And after several attempts to free the money, he realizes that he will have to wait for the parked car to be moved. So, as the biblical text above says, “He folds his arms” and is determined to wait.

Hmm… Is it really worth the wait? All that time, inconvenience, and uncertainty? Greed says yes! He spies a more comfortable spot in the window of a nearby coffee shop and enters, seats himself at the window, and starts spending his money in the cafe, wasting his time, and anxiously waiting for his moment to get more. In his wait are many anxious moments when he worries that someone else may get the money instead of him.

Yes, his desire for more not only has him anxious, it also has him in contention with others who might get what he wants. Suddenly everyone seems like an enemy or a competitor.

And here is a pretty good picture of too many of us today, anxiously waiting in traffic, in shopping lines, wasting time, all to get more. We look nervously to others and worry they might have more than we do, or get what we want. Tempers flare and suspicion too.

The humorous end I will not give away, but us simply say it fulfills the biblical text above with says, As goods increase, so do those who consume them.

A final note. The cafe he enters is called the “Punch and Judy Cafe.” No time to develop all the history here, but simply to note that Punch and Judy shows were an old form of entertainment using puppets (See photo, above right). The shows were a kind of dark comedy that gave a kind of sideways look at the less attractive aspects of culture and people. The main character “Punch” often violently lashes out at the other characters as if to say, “Life and the darker side of things and people tend to hit you where it hurts.” In the “Punch and Judy” Cafe of life, our darker side, in this case greed, often deliver a real gut-punch, a sucker-punch, a punch where it hurts.

Enjoy this video, but take seriously its message. If the embed code doesn’t work for you here is the URL: