Friday, November 18, 2011
Greed is an excessive desire and pursuit of goods like wealth, power, and status.
Wanting things is normal. It is normal to see something, like it, and wish to have it for yourself - like a new smartphone. Wanting things becomes a vice when it becomes too consuming, when the pursuit of the next tech gadget or sports car (or whatever) is more important than most other things (when it shouldn't be). Greed can lead to other vices like envy, the manipulation of others, theft, and violence.
The Christian virtue that I'd like to contrast greed with is charity. When we hear the word charity today we think of non-profit organizations and donations (of money and goods) to those in need. Charity as a Christian virtue is much more than benevolent giving. Charity means love - it is living out the love of God and neighbor that Jesus commanded us to do. This charity may be in the form of donations of time and money, but even donations could be considered greedy if they are done for building up one's own status or power instead of out of love for others. Intentions and results matter in determining whether an act is greedy or charitable. Charity can take the form of doing a good job at your work, contributing in some way to the care of others (whether at church, a non-profit, family, or neighbors), financial assistance or any of the very numerous ways of showing love for God and neighbor.
The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas, which is a translation of the NT Greek word agape (ἀγάπη). Some theologians differentiate between agape and caritas, while others use them interchangeably. Some versions of the Bible translate all the different forms of love as simply love, while others also use charity. One example of the latter is the King James Version. 1 Cor 13:13 "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
I think this time of year is a good time to talk about the vice of greed and the virtue of charity. Christmas is fast approaching, which is a time in our society that is particularly focused on possessions. How we obtain our possessions and how we use them are important. If what we have is motivated out of greed, then we will not be living to our full potential of Christian love. Let's turn away from the greed this season and focus on the love of God and neighbor that is charity.
I'll close with a heartwarming story of charity between a dog and a cat...
Text in photo: "Cashew, my 14-year-old yellow Lab, is blind and deaf. Her best friend is Libby, 7, her seeing-eye cat. Libby steers Cashew away from obstacles and leads her to her food. Every night she sleeps next to her. The only time they're apart is when we take Cashew out for a walk. Without this cat, we know Cashew would be lost and very, very lonely indeed. It's amazing but true: This is one animal who knows what needs to be done and does it day in and day out for her friend." by Terry Burns from Middleburg, Pennsylvania.