Guard Against All Kinds of Greed - a Reflection on Luke 12

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It is common to toss around accusations of greed when we see someone in need – or perhaps when we are in need ourselves – and we see others who are much more well off. In the course of political campaigns for time immemorial, erstwhile rulers have sought to leverage the greed of others to secure power for themselves. One side accuses another of being rich and callous, they then are accused in turn of simply wanting wealth without working for it. There is a tendency in both camps to ennoble themselves, but there is nothing particularly noble about being either rich or poor, as Tevya says in Fiddler on the Roof.

In Luke 12, a man seeks redress from Jesus, believing he has been wronged. He cries out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” In other words, “My brother is greedy! Tell him he has to share!” Jesus is considerably less than sympathetic and declines to intervene. He then says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:14-15, NIV)

It’s common to speak of Luke’s Gospel as showing that God has a special preference for the poor, but it’s worth noting that Jesus is not saying this to the greedy brother who won’t divide the inheritance, that is, to the one who is rich. He’s saying it to the greedy brother who is complaining about it, the one who is comparatively poor. In my own experience, some of the greediest people I’ve met have been the poorest.

This is not to let the wealthy off the hook. Presumably, Jesus would have said the same to the brother with the inheritance – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Perhaps the reason I haven’t met very many greedy rich people is because I don’t tend to get around with very many of those classified as “rich” in the United States. Most middle-class people in the U.S., however, are fabulously wealthy by the standards of the world, and the middle-class can be just as pecuniary as any billionaire.

Not long after this episode, in the same chapter of Luke (12:48), we find Jesus saying, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” That’s us he’s talking to. And we do not meet those demands by pointing to our brother and accusing him of not doing as much as we are, or of not doing as much as he could, or of not sharing his inheritance with us. The question is not what Bill Gates or Warren Buffett (or whoever your favorite rich person might be) is doing with his money, possessions, time, and ability. The question is: What are you doing with your money, possessions, time, and ability?

I daresay very few of us would be able to bear a close inspection on that.

So be on your guard against all kinds of greed, particularly in this political silly season as all manner of politicians will seek to sway your vote by appealing to greed in sometimes vulgar, sometimes sweet; sometimes open, sometimes hidden ways. There’s no doubt everyone accused of being greedy is in fact so, but then, so are all the accusers. Let us, however,

Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:27-31 NIV)

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Well said, Eric.  This is also indirectly very pertinent to any consideration of certain statements made in the Belhar. 

Participant

Loren Cunningham (YWAM founder) confirms your experience of finding more greed among the poor and shares that in his "daring to live on the edge" book...  and some of my experiences in helping those who come for help also lines up with that  =( 

Guide

What is the definition of greed? I find it hard to believe that every single one of us doesn't have some bit of greed in their hearts. If Cunningham has found more greed among the poor, what was her reason?

Participant

Yes, we probably all have some degree of greed to deal with... no one is exempt from greed... and we should note that the Luke 12 parable in response to the "poor" brother is specifically about a rich man...

Here is the quote from "Daring to live on the Edge" Loren Cunningham - YWAM publishings p 56

BOQ- Satan uses these tactics to enslave men financially: greed, the lust of power, pride, and fear - especially fear of financial insecurity.  When we think of greed, we may think of a rich, miserly man.  Some scrooge like miser, sitting on piles of money, running his fingers though his coins and bills.  However, greed is more prevalent among the poor and the not-so-rich.  The ones most consumed with lust for ownership are the ones who have the least.  Greed leads parents in India to break their infants' legs so they can use them as beggars, eliciting more pity as cripples. EOQ

in another story Loren shares how one baby died, seven people hospitalized, 48 people homeless after their apartment (Austin Texas) burned by someone who was owed $8 from one of the residents.

However, he doesn't let the rich off the hook as he sees that they tend to use their wealth for control, power over others including manipulating the greed of the poor.  So this isn't any better than greed, and has much more potential damage! 

Guide

Those are very sad stories, however to me it seems that the people were feeling hopeless, not necessarily greedy. I cannot imagine being in those situations.

Participant

You are right Wendy, there are all kinds of reasons we don't understand for why people do what they do and so we struggle with much desperation in this broken world...  we need grace to love on them, because none of us are deserving of what God has gifted us with...  so LORD, pour Your love into our hearts, and helps us to see each person as You see them, as You intended them to be

Guide

Amen!

The Twitter statement that brought me to read this article states - "There’s no doubt everyone accused of being greedy is in fact so,...".  REALLY!?!

Dave,

Is your comment about the quote from the blog or somethng about tweet (Twitter statement) itself?

I do not see examples of personal greed in the CRC. The only examples I see of congregational greed is refusing to pay shares and spending the money for local programs. I don't see money splurged on  temples and fancy cars. I don't think CRC pastors are getting rich.

When Jesus talked about helping the poor he never mentioned some guy I don't know who lives 5000 miles away where the standard of living is less than mine. Jesus talked about people I personally meet in my every day activities. 

(On the other hand) I don't think Jesus meant for me to give cash to every person who stands at a freeway interchange with a sign. In Jesus day people were not taxed for public welfare. There was no 911 and aid cars. No housing projects for the poor and oppressed.

Is there anything in Proverbs about "sending good money after bad?"  

 

 

 

Guide

Really? No one you know desires things over God at least occasionally? Instructs their children to go into something that will make money rather than go into kingdom service? (seems there was a Banner Q&A about that recently). Works so much that they have no time for family or service in their church?

As for the Bible not instructing us to care for the poor . . . not even sure to start with that one. However I do agree that caring for the poor does not mean giving handouts.

God may not grade on a curve but most sane humans do. I think most CRC congregations are well on the top half of the curve and that First Everett CRC is spending wisely. If I did not believe this I would stay home.

I don't buy "woe is me, miserable sinner" theology. I think the Orthodox, Catholic, and Episcopal denominations are wise to classify sins as felinies and misdemeanors. 

We are all sinners who are (supposed to be)  fighting against our sin nature. No one will perfect in this life. If God has predestined an occasional slip it must be for our instruction. 

Community Builder

Wendy: Two of your sentences struck me: "No one you know desires things over God at least occasionally? Instructs their children to go into something that will make money rather than go into kingdom service?"

I suspect I "know what you mean," but to declare as opposites: (1) "go[ing] into something that will make money" and (2) "kingdom service" really gets us to a bad place.  Let me explain.

In my sophomore year of high school, I decided to be a lawyer rather than a pastor (my math teacher was pushing the pastor route).  In college (Dordt), I confirmed that decision.  No, not to "make money" (or at least not to make MORE money), but because I had been sold on the reformed worldview, which proclaimed that "not one square inch ..." (you know the rest).

But why a lawyer?  There were lots of Christian pastors, I thought; few Christian lawyers.  All were "equally faithful" options (if you really believed the "one square inch" thing instead of merely mouthed it), and I thought I was more of a "lawyer person" than a "pastor person."

But I'll never forget my grandmother, knowing of my plans, saying to me (and I quote verbatim): "how can you decide to be a lawyer if you are a Christian."  I didn't argue with her, but when you say what you have said, I'm hearing my grandmother all over again.

We seem to have the idea of late (last decade or so in the CRC), that certain things are inherently bad, or at least not so good: wealth, certain occupations, certain political theories, etc.; and that certain things are inherently good , or certainly not bad: poverty, certain occupations, political theories, etc.

Well, some occupations may be inherently bad (pimps, for example), and I suppose certain political theories could be bad as well (e.g., one that says Baal must be worshipped by all citizens), but wealth isn't bad -- or good -- and most occupations are not bad -- or good.  One can be a pastor, yet do that which is evil, or a lawyer, yet do that which is righteous.  The other way around is true too of course, but I would suggest that the test of faithfulness is not the occupation chosen, but what we do with that set of talents once we have them.

Nor is a condition of wealth or poverty evidence of faithfulness, although what we do with our wealth, however much of it we may have, would provide such evidence.  OK, also perhaps how we acquired the wealth, but equally why we are in poverty.  Thus, one might be in poverty because he/she simply refused to go the the ant to consider her ways, but instead insists on being a sluggard.  That person would have been unfaithful.  But the wealthy person who efficiently produced a great amount of food (milk, grain, what have you) and sold to the market at great profit has been faithful.  Now, the wealthy person may or may not be faithful by what he/she then DOES with that wealth (talents given), but the acquisition of wealth is not per se an act of unfaithfulness.

Indeed, God is not "in a special way the God of the poor" (as the Belhar suggests).  Rather, some have more material wealth and some less, in each case some for faithful and some for unfaithful reasons.  And in whatever condition of material weath we are in, we all have challenges and temptations to overcome in order to be faithful.  Jesus' warns that it is hard for the rich to enter God's kingdom because of the temptation of their wealth.  But he warns those with less wealth of essentially the same in the parable where the servant with the fewest talents was judged for squandering them, and in the parable of the servants who were paid the same even though they had worked longer.  "Do not covet," one of the big ten, cannot be said to only apply to the wealthy.

Your categorization scheme says, literally, I did not choose "kingdom service." I strongly object to that.  I did, and still do choose "kingdom service."  Indeed, your categorization scheme says most CRC members did not choose "kingdom service."  I suspect most of them (though perhaps not all) would object as well.

Guide

Hi Doug, I did not mean those sentences as categories, merely as examples of where greed might be present. Also, I did not mean to imply that making money and kingdom work were mutually exclusive. Rather, in the Banner example, the parent was discouraging his child from going into nonprofit work because he was concerned that he wouldn't be able to afford to support a family or Christian schools. One might be surprised how often this happens - parents are dismayed that their child wants to be a youth worker or missionary because they will not make as much money as they might doing other things. If someone is called to be a lawyer, a doctor, or a business executive, that does not mean they are doing any less kingdom work than someone being called to be a pastor or a missionary. However, I do think it's wrong if people resist the call to do kingdom work if they are gifted in that area  simply because they feel they won't make enough money.

Hope that makes sense. Miscommunication and assumptions are one reason I try to stay away from commenting on complex issues online. That and people are so quick to categorize and politicize. It's interesting, isn't it? If someone says that rich people just might be greedy, the assumption is that that person thinks the poor are special and somehow more godly. If someone says the poor might be greedy, the assumption is that they subscribe to health and wealth gospel and don't recognize that some people are poor due to circumstance or injustice.

Community Builder

Wendy: Thanks for the reply, and I'll repeat what I said in my prior post: that "I suspect I 'know what you mean,' but ..."  Please don't stop posting online on "complex issues."  I think one of the great values of the Network is it allows these kinds of conversations to occur.  I think they are almost always edifying.

I actually remember the Banner Q&A you refer to and cringed when I read it.  I would have given a very different answer:  When a parent "discourages" his child from going into nonprofit work because the parent is concerned the child wouldn't be able to afford to support a family or Christian schools, the parent isn't necessarily being irresponsible, but might be extremely responsible.

I personally have discouraged some Christians from taking certain nonprofit work (or other work for that matter), based on economic considerations.  There are all sorts of jobs in the world, ranging from those providing millions in compensation to those providing zero (some of my jobs pay me, some don't pay me at all).  I remember when my wife and I moved to Oregon (I was going to attend law school).  She received an offer to teach at a Christian School for an annual salary of $3000.  She didn't take that, nor did I think she should, but instead took a teaching job at a public school that paid $9,000 (this was a long time ago of course).  My law school tuition was $3000.  We couldn't get through the basics of life if she took the $3000 job.  Ironically, the Christian School verbalized that they couldn't pay more because paying more meant they wouldn't be able to do as kingdom work.  There was and still is something wrong with that picture (and the school closed down within a couple of years of our moving out).

You say in your response, "I do think it's wrong if people resist the call to do kingdom work if they are gifted in that area  simply because they feel they won't make enough money." OK, but it will never be "simply because they feel they won't make enough money."  And gifts (talents) can never be used "just in one way" or "just in one job."  Realistically taking into account the economic aspects of any particular occupation (or more likely a particular job) is always, ALWAYS, responsible (in fact, doing otherwise is not) .  Even in the Banner Q&A, two parental concerns were provided in the question: one being family (quite important, even a first priority) and Christian education (which relates to paying for what your children need, which again is a first priority).  I'm not actually seeing the "wrong-ness" here, and perhaps am seeing a lot of "right-ness."  For the advising parent, this wasn't about money per se but about taking care of family (which happens to require money). Now, I can come up with examples of "wrong-ness relating to money and jobs, but I'm not seeing it in the Banner Q&A.

I guess what I'm also saying is that it is good that we (communally) watch out for easy or even simple answers (which the Banner's Q&A often give I think) because they are so often wrong.  And that cliche phrases ("kindgom work," as if some work is not?) sometimes form our actually operative thinking categories in bad ways even though our professed theology/worldview/tradition is otherwise.

Interesting and honest analysis. I thought about studying law but I can't tell lies with a straight face so I put in 30 years as a police officer. I have been accused of many things but never of lying under oath or in writing.

I was thinking at a lower philosophical level. We have always lived below our income level and tithed ( Commercial for God - Tithing doesn't "cost" anyhing because God makes it work out, somehow).  But once in a while it is nice to blow 50 bucks on a nice dinner and I don't feel this is cheating God or wasting HIS assets. Further, now that the kids have moved out and the dog died it is almost cheaper to go out for lunch than to eat three days of left-overs at home.

 

   

Community Builder

Bill: You were a police officer for 30 years and apparently did your job (at least tried to) in a manner consistent with your faith and worldview.

In my thinking, you were, literally, doing "kingdom work."

There was a sermon I heard once that stated that if you have food clothing and shelter you are rich. This was profound for me because I never considered myself rich. There was always a friend or neighbor or associate that had a lot more than I did so rich did not apply to me. I came to realize that yes I am rich even though I struggled to pay Christian school tuition for my kids, and didn't have an investment portfolio or live in a McMansion. The Lord has richly blessed me and requires me to love others and share what I have. If I don't have an attitude of love and therefore giving, I am indeed greedy. It is not all about me, but about others.