How Greed Works

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19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Matthew 6:19-24

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lays out a vision for how His Kingdom can transform the lives of His disciples. He keeps our relationship with the stuff of earth connected to knowing the Heavenly Father. Jesus knows greed for more and anxiety because of scarcity hinder our experience of His love and our involvement in His mission.

Greed can take over our lives. He shows us three kinds of power at work in greed. I’m going to call them principles.

The treasure principle: “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” If you treasure money, then the affections of your heart and your best energy for life will go there.

The eye-health principle: “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” The perspectives through which your see the world will affect your whole life. So, if you are seeing the world through the faulty lens of greed, you are going to damage your life and those around you.

The master principle: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” We thought we could be the master of our money or our wealth. But here’s what Jesus knows: money / wealth / the stuff of earth competes for the allegiance we only to the Giver of all good things. (Rich Mullins wrote this truth into a song) Jesus’ conclusion: You cannot serve both God and money. And money makes a terrible master.

So what are we to do?

We must establish God as master of our lives and our stuff. That will lead us to explore with Him, what the purpose of such stuff and our work is in His Kingdom. And we will begin to ask daily, “Jesus, what would you have me do with the stuff of earth entrusted me?

I want a career…

You know the moment.  The person across from you has been talking away and the moment is serious.  But your mind is light-years away from their concern.  Rather your mind has been hijacked by another concern.  In fact you showed up for the conversation with another agenda.  And finally the person takes a breath and you cross the threshold and carve out a doorway to your heart.  “I want… Please tell… Do this for me!”

People like me interrupted Jesus. He often used the moment to address the heart concerns of many other people.  In Luke 12 Jesus had been teaching the crowd to avoid hypocrisy by trusting God with their fears, when a man in the crowd revealed his distress.  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.

Practical Security

An inheritance in Jesus’ day was most often held in the family property or land holdings.  Traditionally the first son would receive two-thirds of the property as his inheritance.  The remaining one third would likely be sold and divided among all else who had a claim to it.  The “wisdom” of this approach developed out of the desire to maintain the ability of at least one member of the family to secure a future, a lifestyle, and an income for the family through the property that remained.  This younger brother’s request was likely driven by the desire to also have some security for the future.

When I poll University students at UBC and in Vancouver as to why they are pursuing school, its most often because they “want a good job” in the future.  They want a career that will bring some sense of security for themselves and for their family.  Although “the career” may be fading as a sure promise of security, it still holds power over many–especially those who are about to graduate.  The stress created moves them into the realm of worry.  Worry habituates us to what Jesus calls greed and a view of life because it rules out God from the equation.  Worry moves us to the center and displaces Christ.

Greed Consumes

A flashback to Wall Street reminds us that our societal message is that greed is good.  However, Jesus tells us “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:13  A career can be a wonderful journey.  However, we can miss the joy of work and the real purpose of life when wealth position, and security become the end-goals.  The story Jesus told of a  successful rich man getting ready to retire, yet dying “prematurely” was meant to confront the prevailing narrative of both brothers and the rich and poor in the crowd.  Life is about more than securing wealth for ourselves; wealth will fail us; life is about being rich toward God.

What happens when greed dominates life?

1.  My wants exceed my needs and become supreme.
2.  I will use people rather than love people.
3.  I will sacrifice the most important for the mundane.
4.  I will have a shrinking faith in God and His providence.
5.  I will create a self-righteousness that allows me to judge others who have less.
6.  I will fail to enjoy giving.
7. I will view hospitality as a chore or a way to ingratiate myself to others.
8. I will be possessed by my possessions.
9. I will be deceived into become small and insignificant rather than great.
10. As greed is a form of violence I will become habituated to injustice.
11. I will be persistently pre-occupied with security and therefore fear-full.

Jesus secures life

Greed is contrary to the knowledge of God.  In fact Jesus’ view of life and career is so different from ours and He knows it.  In light of who God is Jesus then exhorts His disciples:

1.  Not to worry about their life; what they will eat, drink, or wear.

2.  Not to set their hearts on what they will eat, drink, or wear.

3.  To pursue the Kingdom of God.

4.  To live generously–to sell their possessions and give to the poor.

So when thinking about our careers, Jesus would have us re-examine the question of WHO we are living for.  If we are at the centre you can be sure greed will find open space to take root.  If Jesus and His rule and reign is at the centre greed will find little rest.  I pray that we would truly know Jesus.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  2 Corinthians 8:9  When Jesus tells us to pursue the Kingdom first, he then reminds us that our loving Heavenly Father has in fact and will continue to “give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32  Jesus has secured what a career will never give us.