First And Foremost
Why does Jesus spend so much time talking about greed and its negative effects? This section of Luke chapter 12, from verses 13-34 addresses the problem with several sayings and parables. It seems to be a very important message for us to consider. This is no “prosperity gospel” in the sense that we have come to know it in recent times. It is not the things of the earth that make us wealthy, or that bring us happiness. Rather, it is the eternal things of your kingdom like love, kindness, and generosity of spirit, that make us rich in grace and happiness.
This is the theme of the great Medieval morality play, Everyman, written in the late 15th century by an anonymous, Christian author. The main character in this allegory, Everyman, is visited by Death and is told that he must bring the accounting book of his life before the judgment throne of God. Everyman asks for time to get his accounts in order. In fear, he also asks if he can have someone go with him on this journey into death and judgment. Everyman goes to his kin, and to his friends and asks them if they would go with him on this journey into death. They, of course, refuse. He then goes to the character, Goods, and asks him to come with him on this journey. Goods, the personification of Everyman’s wealth, answers him saying, “Nay, Everyman, I sing another song. I follow no man in such voyages; for, [if] I went with thee, thou wouldst fare much the worse for me; for because on me thou didst set thy mind, thy reckoning I have made blotted and blind, that thine account thou cannot make truly; and that [is because of thy] love of me.” Everyman says to Goods, “Alas, I have thee loved, and had great pleasure all my life on goods and treasure.” Goods responds, “That is to thy damnation, without leasing, for my love is contrary to the love everlasting; but if thou had loved me moderately during, as to the poor to give part of me, then shouldst thou not in this dolour (pain) be, nor in this great sorrow and care.” Everyman realizes that he has spent too much of his life concerned about his wealth, and not enough on the things above. He worries that now that he has been called to his accounting it may be too late. Of course, it isn’t. He finally finds one character who will go with him on the journey. That character is Good Deeds, who counsels him saying, “All earthly things is but vanity…all fleeth save Good Deeds, and that am I.” Everyman, relieved, says in faith, “Here I cry God mercy…Into thy hands, Lord, my soul I commend.” Everyman is met by an Angel who says to him, “Come, excellent elect spouse, to Jesu! Now shalt thou into the heavenly sphere, unto that which all ye shall come that liveth well before the day of doom.”
Even the pagan philosopher, Aristotle, understood some of this wisdom three centuries before Christ. He recognized that in order to be able to be happy our basic needs for food, water, clothing and shelter must be met. Aristotle wrote that, while we have a right to be able to acquire some of the things that are beyond the basic needs, that add pleasure and increase the freedom in our lives, we must always avoid the temptation to excess. He believed that happiness would be the product of learning to live in accord with what he called the “Golden Mean,” that is, the balance between excess and defect, in other words, between having too much, or too little. This was a moral insight from the philosophical point of view, that is, from the point of view of human wisdom. Though Aristotle’s wisdom was great in human terms, it was limited, because he did not know God.
In today’s devotional reflection from Luke’s gospel, we are getting this message directly from Jesus. Money is not evil, greed is. That is why he tells us to, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Rather it consists in the abundance of his love for the things of God. Jesus tells us, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…It is the pagan world that runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But first seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (verses 23 and 30) When one makes a habit of seeking God’s kingdom first, one begins to be moved by Jesus’ example to be generous in all things, including one’s possessions. One’s generosity is a direct byproduct of one’s love for God and the things of heaven. It is in possessing and being possessed by the love of God that we find our truest happiness, both here and now, and in the life to come.
Lord, give us the grace to love you with all of our hearts. Turn our attention toward you and the eternal things of your kingdom more and more everyday. Help us to guard against greed in all of its forms, for this is the path only to worry, sorrow, envy and violence. Help us to be rich in your love alone. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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