Greed and insatiability
Three clergymen split on a lottery ticket and they won the grand prize of a million pounds. The first one, a baptist minister says “this is a blessing, but how much do we keep for ourselves and how much should we give to God”?
After a few minutes he said: “I know we’ll draw a circle and throw the money up in the air,whatever lands out of the circle we’ll keep and whatever lands in the circle we’ll give to God.”
The Priest pipes up and says, “You know it’s a little windy, I think we should throw the money up in the air and whatever lands inside the circle we keep and whatever lands outside of the circle we give to God.”
They then turn to the rabbi and ask his opinion, and the rabbi says.
“I think we should throw the money up in the air and and whatever God wants he can keep and we’ll keep the rest for ourselves.”
We have just heard Jesus telling us the story of the dishonest or deceitful manager, and we probably think that he was being unfair to his master while reducing the amount of debt they owned his master. That is actually a wrong interpretation, because it was quite the opposite. As a matter of fact, as soon as he knew that his master was going to fire him, the dishonest manager suddenly became honest. Why so? As we heard from the story he realised that the only chance to not be in a very desperate situation was to be honest to his master’s debtors while setting fair payments instead of stealing from them as did for many years.
From this perspective we have a very different interpretation of the parable. The man was dishonest during all his life, but once caught by his master, he played a clever move knowing that his honesty would have payed him back more than his financial dishonesty.
Jesus is not praising the deceitful manager, but the appreciation showed to his cleverness gives him an excellent opportunity to made clear his point to his disciples: “You cannot serve God and wealth”. Once again Jesus surprises us. We thought that he was making a moral judgement and teaching us about honesty and dishonesty. Instead, his parable goes beyond a simply moral judgement. The gospel is essentially talking about our relationship with God and giving us a warning: greed can stop you to have an authentic relationship with God, and certainly with your family, friends and community. The message here is very plain. God and money are in competition. They both seek our service and indeed our love. Or so it seems when we don’t relate to money wisely.
What is greed then? Well, the point of being greedy is straightforward, and it talks to our emotional and spiritual sense of life when we let money be more than money in our hearts.
Greed is the love of money. Now you see, we have a problem here. When I say: “I love lasagna”, that means I like it very much, but if I say that I love money, well then I’m in trouble because money -unlike certain foodstuffs- has no intrinsically likeable qualities. Greed is then about relating to money with inappropriate desire, and giving it a priority and importance that is disproportionate. I’m sure many of you remember “The Miser”, a play produced by Moliere and first performed on the 9th of September 1668, in the theatre of the Palais-Royal in Paris. It is a satirical comedy that portrayed Harpagon -a name adapted from the Latin harpago, meaning a hook or grappling iron- a Miser obsessed with the wealth he has amassed. In this comedy satire and farce blend in the fast-moving plot, as when the miser’s hoard is stolen. Asked by the police magistrate whom he suspects, Harpagon replies, “Everybody! I wish you to take into custody the whole town and suburbs” and indicates the theatre audience while doing so.
This is the true kind of avarice/greed. Harpagon is actually the symbol of that restless and unsatiable desire of Riches, not for any farther end or use, but only to hoard, and preserve, and perpetually increase them. The Covetous Man becomes ridiculous in a sense that he turns to be the laughing stock of the whole community because of his disproportionate love for money. Interestingly the audience laughs at him, but don’t realise how much of that satirical description of the man who makes a fool of himself by falling of love with money, refer to themselves.
We probably struggle to see ourselves as greedy persons, even when we know that a little greed -meaning a healthy sense of un-satisfaction- would help us move things forward socially and economically.
What is it that makes greed so dangerous to our spiritual and human lives? Insatiability is probably the best answer to this question. Greed may become a hugely destructive force when acquisition and consumption themselves become unstoppable and destructive habits. The question we may have to ask ourselves is: “How much is enough?” Because insatiability seems to be the endless capacity to find grounds for dissatisfaction. How can we get out of this vicious cycle? It seems rather dramatic, especially in a world where we are encouraged to be as much unsatiable as possible.
Firstly, we acknowledge that greed and insatiability are part of the human condition. That is what we learn from today’s Gospel. Jesus does not save or condemn the dishonest manager, but gives him the chance to be wise, to find the balance, to know when it is enough. How? Acknowledging the powerful destructiveness that greed involves. Greed is not a lonely and harmful sin, but a destructive force that hurts and damages others: it is huge source of injustice. The prophet Amos is actually talking about that. When greed and insatiability prevails on our relationships, injustice will spread like a plague among us.
The wise question that may help us to head us into the right direction then is: “How much is just enough?” In swedish there is word to summarise the wisdom of being content with what you are and have: lagom, that means “Just enough”. While we are not scared of acknowledging our human condition, we ask God to give more “lagom”: what we need, just enough.