18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 31, 2022
Three contractors were touring the White House on the same day. One was from New York, one was from Missouri, and the third was from Florida. At the end of the tour, the guard asked them what they did for a living. when they each replied that they were contractors, the guard said, “Hey we need one of the rear fences redone. Why don’t you guys take a look at it and give me your bids.”
First, the Florida contractor took out his tape measure and pencil, did some measuring and said, “I figure the job will run about $900 – That’s $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”
Next was the Missouri contractor took out his tape measure and pencil, did some quick calculations and said, “Looks like I can do this job for $700 . That’s $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”
Finally, the guard asks the New York contractor for his bid. Without batting an eye, the contractor says, “It’ll cost $2,700.”
The guard looks at him and says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?”
“Easy,” says the contractor from New York, “$1,000 for me, $1,000 for you, and we hire the guy from Missouri to do the work.”
Yes, greed can creep into any and every situation in which we find ourselves, if we let it. It’s part of the consumerist mentality that has gripped our culture, our nation, our world, and many of us, in the process. It’s that kind of mentality that Jesus addresses in today’s gospel, when he poignantly asserts, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” The word in the Greek used here for ‘greed,’ is the word, “pleonexia” which translates as ‘a yearning to have more.’
So were Jesus speaking in modern day parlance, he’d say, “Watch out for always wanting more of something or of someone, thinking that once we receive it, that it’s going to make us permanently happy. That’s a lie and we need to name it as such.”
It’s like when we go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. We keep going up to eat more and more of whatever it is that we enjoy. But when we leave that buffet, we quickly discover that the happiness that we experienced has been quickly replaced by stomach cramps, lethargy, and a feeling of bloatedness. Perhaps too, our waist lines, may have also expanded in the process. The same sort of greediness can be found in the workplace. We may already have a good job and benefits, but become dissatisfied with the job, its pay, and the benefits it offers, thinking that we’re worth much more, that our company owes us more for working for them, and that if we’re not appreciated appropriately, that we’ll make everyone else’s life miserable until they do. At still other times, we may be respected for our past accomplishments but still crave more acknowledgment for what it is, we’ve already done. By continuing to live in the past, though, we fail to consider what we can do right NOW to continue affecting our society in a positive way. Jesus raises a red flag on all these behaviors and others like them, and challenges us to recognize them immediately as forms of greed that have no place in the Christian life.
One of the reasons Jesus focusses on greed is because he knows that when our focus is on the accumulation of some ‘thing,’ we run the risk of devaluing the other, more vital aspects of our lives, like our relationship with our spouse, with our children, with our neighbors, with our co-workers, with our God. How many spouses fight over how their household money is spent and how to use the money that they do have?! How many children complain that their parents have deprived them of the latest technological device on the market or will only wear the most expensive name brands of clothing and accessories?
How many families are in competition with their neighbors, seeking to make their yard or home more attractive than the one next door? How many co-workers vie for another’s position in the company, so that they will have more to spend on themselves and their luxury items? How many people disregard God’s will for their lives and pursue their own selfish agendas? These are some of the dangers that Jesus warns, can sidetrack us from God’s purpose and plan for us.
One of the major negative effects that greed can have in our lives is its ability to devalue our commitment to Christian values and virtues, which can help us to achieve the holiness to which we’ve been called. Our second reading was very direct when it urges us, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you that is earthy: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.” Idols have only one purpose: to be worshipped because of their false promises to transform our sadness into joy, our struggles into triumphs, our lowly place to a honored, high one.
Maybe what we idolize didn’t make Paul’s short list. Today’s the day to call that idol into question, whatever it is, to really reflect on it, and to ask ourselves whether we’ve given up some Christian value or virtue in favor of a worldly striving that has no everlasting value and is not the source of enduring happiness and freedom. These indeed, are some hard questions to ask ourselves, but if we really want to take Jesus’ admonition to avoid all forms of greed seriously, we need to shine the light of truth on our idolatry. Only then can we have any hope of overcoming it and replacing it anew with the enduring, godly values of the Gospel.
Quohelet, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, came to the conclusion, after a lot of experimentation, that a striving for any of the things that the world says will make us happy, is indeed vanity, a futile “chasing after win.”
Have you ever tried to catch the wind? It’s impossible! So, if it’s impossible, why do we even try? Indeed, if we know that greed for things or for persons will not help us to achieve God’s vision for our lives, why do we persist in seeking them? Why don’t we just accept the wisdom of Quohelet and Paul and turn to Christ as the source of true and lasting happiness and freedom? Why don’t we just embrace the Gospel of Christ as the path that leads to life and ultimate happiness in heaven? Why don’t we just give up striving for more and turn to Christ who promises to provide us with all that we truly need to live our lives according to God’s plan?
Perhaps it might be a different matter if our greed didn’t adversely affect others, but a report from the United Nations on Human Development concluded that 20% of the world’s people in the highest income countries consume 86% of the world’s goods, while the poorest 20%, consume a mere 1.3% of the world’s goods. The top 20% richest countries….
- Consume 45% of all meat and fish, as compared to 5% of the fifth poorest.
- Consume 58% of total energy, as compared to 4% of the fifth poorest.
- Consume 84% of all paper projects, as compared to 1.1% of the fifth poorest.
- Own 87% of the world’s vehicles, compared to less that 1% of the fifth poorest nations.
My brothers and sisters, these are sobering statistics indeed, but they’re meant to serve as a wake-up call to all of us to acknowledge our complicity in the greed which has overtaken our world and to stand up for and live by the Christian values and virtues that promise a dignified life for all. In the long run, such greediness on our part will only continue to degrade our environment, increase disparities between the rich and poor, and will escalate the many social problems that already plague our society and families today. Only by fighting against all forms of greed can we proclaim the peace and justice of the Kingdom.
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