The deadly sin of greed

Greed . . . separates us from our fellow travellers on the road, and from the generous, freely given love of God.

August 28, 2014 | Viewpoints | Number 17
Melissa Miller |

On a perfectly lovely summer day last month, I joined a couple hundred people for a worship service on the edges of a wheat field. The crop on the field is dedicated to the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Each year, individual farmers from Catholic, Lutheran and Mennonite churches join with local seed, fertilizer and insurance businesses to produce a crop. When it’s harvested and sold, and matched four-to-one by the Canadian government, the funds are directed to the Foodgrains’ mission of ending world hunger.

On that Sunday, the sun warmed us and a gentle breeze sweetened the air, as we sang of our faith, prayed and listened to God’s Word. We reflected on the feeding of the five thousand from Matthew 14, with its reminder of the miraculous abundance that happens when we turn our resources over to God, ask God’s blessing on them, and share them with open hands and hearts. In such a gracious and fertile setting, it was easy to imagine a peaceful world where all have enough.

But the world isn’t peaceful, nor do all have enough. At the service, we heard heartbreaking stories of people desperately in need of food and food security—the kind of people served by the Foodgrains Bank. Sitting on the ripening wheat field, with our full bellies and full wallets, we were mindful of the abundance of God’s blessing in our lives, even as we heard a compelling call to live generously in response to God’s love.

A few days later, working on this column in a public library, I noticed on the table beside me two books about Bernie Madoff, the infamous thief now serving an interminable 150-year prison term for engineering the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Skimming them, I couldn’t help but contrast the greed and destructiveness of Madoff with the good will and charity present in the Manitoba wheat field.

Charity and greed are opposites, or, more accurately, charity is the antidote to greed. Greed is a term of excess: an extreme, even insatiable hunger for more stuff, more than one needs, more than one deserves, especially when considering the poor and the hungry. Synonyms include avarice and covetousness; terms like piggish and ravenous may expand its meaning, but seem to judge unkindly both the pig and the raven.

Greed is rightly named one of the Seven Deadly Sins because of its power to separate us from our fellow travellers on the road, and from the generous, freely given love of God. When we are blinded by greed, we miss seeing the needs of others and the perfectly adequate, even abundant, resources that drench our lives. In our world of excessive buying, consuming and wasting, it is greed that drives much of our economy. I wonder how conscious we are able to be of the greed and entitlement that we carry as privileged North Americans.

Charity is a Christian virtue to cultivate, an alternative to the empty, unsatisfying hunger of greed. An old-fashioned term, charity speaks to us of caring for the poor, of sharing with those in need, of almsgiving. More broadly, it mirrors agape love, the kind of love that God pours out unconditionally on all people, on the whole world—probably even on pigs and ravens. Charity turns us outward, away from our greedy selves and toward the goodness and fulfillment of caring for others. May we lean into charity and away from greed.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mymts.net) lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.

See Melissa’s other columns in her series on the deadly sins:
The deadly sin of gluttony
The deadly sin of sloth
The deadly sin of wrath
The deadly sin of lust
The deadly sin of envy
The deadly sin of pride
Talk of sin should start with forgiveness

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