by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente missionaries.
Salamanca, August 04, 2019. Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Ecclesiastes 1: 2.2,21-23; Letter to the Colossians 3: 1-5.9-11; Saint Luke 12: 13-21.
When we read, And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Mt 19:24), we are likely to think, That doesn’t apply to me. I am not rich.
Greed for money is not the only thought contained in the Jesus’ words the one who stores up treasure for himself. The phrase might as appropriately be applied to greed for popularity or fame, an equally insidious temptation. Prestige and power are often coveted more than money.
In fact, our greed takes different shapes and forms. For some it may be the desire for the approval and praise of others. For others it is the uncontrolled desire for power, control or fame. For still others greed takes the form of excessive and sinful indulgence in eating, drinking, gambling, drugs or sexual activities.
Addiction is often about the pursuit of a reward in the face of risk. For dangerous or illegal substances, the reward is an energetic uphigh and the risk is bodily damage, dependency, or legal consequences. No matter how many times they use, people who live with addiction cannot fill the void that attracted them to drugs to begin with. they gradually up the dosage because the body develops a tolerance to the substance. The energetic uphigh is not high enough anymore.
Certain types of greed operate on similar principles as addiction. Greed and drug use activate similar pleasure pathways in the brain, according to several researchers. Unsurprisingly, gambling addiction has a particularly strong connection to avarice. In both scenarios, the feeling of pleasure comes from the process of pursuing the reward, not only the final result.
Greed, like addiction, is often a coping mechanism for unresolved mental health issues. By obtaining incredible wealth or success, people with deep insecurities strive to feel like they are finally good enough, or at least better than their peers. The logic is similar to how substances can provide temporary relief for emotional and physical pain.
A person who is consumed by greed becomes entirely fixated on the object of his greed. Life is reduced to little more than a quest to accumulate as much as possible of whatever it is that he craves. Even though he has met his every reasonable need and more, he is unable to adapt and reformulate his drives and desires.
If the person is embarrassed by his greed, he may take to hiding it projecting a measure of dignity. For example, a man who craves power may deceive others (and, in the end, perhaps also himself) that what he really wants is to help others or an organization, while also speaking out against those who, like himself, crave power and reputation.
Greed, as one of the capital sins, has serious consequences on all areas of our spiritual life. It is a source of useless and obsessive thoughts and desires; greed also destroys charity, turning our life away from God and away from serving and loving Him in other people. As greed directs all our energy and attention to fulfilling the self, its objects become our false gods, and they will consume us.
When you fill a glass with water, you displace the air. Greed is like that. And so the fundamental question to ask of greed is, “What is it keeping me from?”
Greed keeps us from our filial consciousness, obscuring our actual identity as children of God. All the energy and time spent bowing to wants and declaring them needs, all the effort to turn luxuries into necessities, eventually leads us to believe that we are only what we have. On the contrary, St Paul tells us: there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. Jesus calls the rich man a “fool”, a word used in the Old Testament for someone who rebels against God or has forgotten Him (Ps 14:1) and the most obvious symptom is the removal of the thought of death.
Who idolizes money becomes truly paranoid; he does not live in a real world, but in what he built for himself and imagines as eternal. He forgets “the measure of his life and how short life is”; he does not take into account that “each living person is only a breath, passes like a shadow. He is just a mere whiff of breath, rakes in wealth, not knowing who will take it next” (Ps 39:5-7).
Furthermore, greed keeps us from making connections. It displaces the only thing in life that ever really matters and makes our mission possible, loving relationships.
Greed puts our fellowmen at the bottom of the list for time and attention. Parents subcontract their kids out while they go off and “build for their future,” storing up luxuries…when the only luxury the children really want is the parents themselves. Greed builds walls. Relationship makes life meaningful. Only a right relationship with God, others and ourselves can give us fulfillment and happiness. One of the main reasons for our unhappiness in life is disunity in our family, workplace and community.
The stark truth is that even when we have status, power, money and the luxuries of life, we are not much happier. In fact, an increase in status, power, wealth and luxury do not bring a corresponding increase in happiness. They might give us some satisfaction but not true joy. There is a limit to the satisfaction that power, money and luxury can bring to a person. Once the limit is reached, greed begins to take control of our life. We become increasingly dissatisfied and this greed will eventually destroy our happiness and peace.
Because greed keeps us from the bigger picture, because it prevents us from communing with ourselves and with God, it is strongly condemned by all major religious traditions.
In the Buddhism, craving holds us back from the path to enlightenment. In the Christian tradition, it is understood as a form of idolatry that forsakes the love of God for the love of the self and of material things, forsakes things eternal for things temporal.
This neglect of higher things is the mother of all sin. For St Paul, greed is the root of all evil (1Tim 6: 10) Similarly, in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna calls covetousness a great destroyer and the foundation of sin:
It is covetousness that makes men commit sin. From covetousness proceeds wrath; from covetousness flows lust, and it is from covetousness that loss of judgment, deception, pride, arrogance, and malice, as also vindictiveness, shamelessness, loss of prosperity, loss of virtue, anxiety, and infamy spring, miserliness, cupidity, desire for every kind of improper act, pride of birth, pride of learning, pride of beauty, pride of wealth, pitilessness for all creatures, malevolence towards all…
In today’s Gospel text we see how the senselessness caused by money and power is easily detected in the fact that, in the presence of death (the division of inheritance takes place after a demise), greed does remove the thought of death. Jesus never despised the goods of this world, but he warned against the danger of becoming a slave.
Around 220 B.C. a wise man lives in Jerusalem. He is called Ecclesiastes (Qohelet), that is the one that brings together the assembly. He lives in a time characterized by well-being and the flourishing of considerable economic activity.
Qohelet observes with attention and detachment this agitated busying of themselves, reflects and wonders: is it worth it or is it all a chasing after the wind (Ecl 2:11)? And The conclusion is always the same: at the end, without distinction, they are stripped of everything.
So what to do? Stop working, not committing oneself any longer? Eating, drinking, having fun and not thinking about others?
Qohelet advises his disciples a healthy enjoyment of what life offers. However, he leaves suspended the fundamental questions about the meaning of life. Jesus will be the one to throw open new horizons, to teach not to fret about vanity, not to chase the wind.
Greed is not a new passion, but in our world today takes on new forms, mainly due to modern individualism.
From a mental health perspective, the rising individualism is disturbing. The amassed mental health research indicates that social support, social ties and community integration acts to buffer mental illness and improve mental health. Contrariwise, intense individualism usually leads to more isolation, more loneliness and more alienation.
Today, expressions of individualism are everywhere you look. The rise of individualism has run on a parallel course with a loss of faith and trust in institutions, with this way of seeing the world showing no signs of reversing. Day by day, we are experiencing a gradual but pervasive spread of individual autonomy and increasing confidence in personal judgment.
And as Moises Naim argues in his The End of Power, the middle-class in many nations and a more mobile world are contributing to a pervasive ethos of individuality. This erosion of official power and escalation of self-rule are likely to accelerate in the future.
This is the vision of Saint John Paul II: When God-Yahweh said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” (Gn 2:18) he affirmed that “alone,” man does not completely realize this essence. He realizes it only by existing “with someone” – and even more deeply and completely – by existing “for someone.” (Jan 9, 1980)
Today, in the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus illustrates the effects of greed and its inseparable individualism.
The protagonist is a committed person, is wise, obtains optimum results and is also and blessed by God. Jesus does not say that he has enriched himself committing injustice and theft. There is to assume that he is also honest. Having achieved well-being, he decides to retire for a well-deserved rest. Where did the farmer go wrong? Why is he called foolish?
He lives among the people, but he does not see them. He has no time, no energies, no thoughts and no feelings for the people. In his mind there is no room for his family, his workers, certainly not for God. The assets are the idol that has created a vacuum around him, and has dehumanized all.
Something in him is broken because he has no inner balance, has completely lost the orientation and the meaning of life.
Jesus introduces the voice of God in the parable to show his audience what are the true values on which it is worthwhile to point in life, and what are those ephemeral and deceptive.
The judgment of God is heavy: who lives to accumulate assets is a fool! Is wealth thus bad? Absolutely no. Jesus has never condemned it; he never asked anyone to throw it away, but he warned against the serious dangers that it hides.
The ideal of a Christian is not a miserable life. At the end of the parable the mistake made by the rich farmer is indicated. He is not condemned because it has produced many goods, worked hard, was committed, but because “he has amassed for himself” and “has not enriched himself in the sight of God”.
Jesus Christ does not warn one who has great wealth, but whoever accumulates for oneself. One can have a little money and have the “heart of the rich.”