What is good, Greed or God?

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Readings:  Eccl. 1:2; 2:21-23/Col. 3:1-5,9-11

Psalm:       90:3-6, 12-14,17

Gospel:  Lk. 12:13-21

             The 1980’s were known as the “Decade of Decadence.”  Never has that phrase been displayed perfectly than in the Oliver Stone movie “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen.  In one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, Douglas’ character, Gordon Gecko, delivers one of the most memorable lines in motion picture history.  During a shareholders meeting of a company he is trying to take over, Gecko counters the management style of the current board by saying three words:  “Greed is good.”  Those three words summarized the entire mindset of those living in that period. Many of the things I remember growing up in that time was based on that mantra.  We dressed in the latest fashions coming off the TV worn by our favorite singers that appeared on MTV (when they played music videos all day).  If we wanted to hang out, we did it at a shopping mall rather than a park because all the latest stuff was there.  The TV shows were all focused on the more one had, the better their life was as well as the friends we surrounded ourselves with.

Even our toys went from what we played with to what was collectible. Either it was Hot Wheels or Pound Puppies or My Little Pony or any electronic game that would fit in our hand.  We would get excited if we ever got a hold of a roll of quarters so we could go to the arcade and play all the video games trying to be the top score.  We would move from Space Invaders to Pac-Man to Tron to Dragon’s Lair to Pole Position and finally to-my personal favorite-Donkey Kong.  If you were really fortunate, the family would get an Atari 2600 and play a lot of the same games at home.  We stopped playing for fun and started perfecting ourselves for competition.

Our movie watching started with Star Wars and ended with Rambo. The United States cleaned up at the Olympics that were held in our backyard, because many countries decided not to come because we didn’t go to their backyard 4 years before. The mood in the country was we had to be #1, because that meant that we were perfect.  It was a time to be better than anyone else at the expense of others, whether we meant to hurt them or not.

But what got lost in the pursuit of personal perfection was the loss of the closeness of the family and the loss of true friendship.  I can recall many people in my class that were very close growing up, but have since grown apart. Families that were once close-knit now refuse to speak to one another unless they absolutely have to because of the mindset of being superior rather than just being supportive.  Some of these relationships could be fixed, if they would only sit down and talk. Others probably would continue their fighting until the day one of them dies; and even then the survivor will celebrate that they had won.

That same sentiment is, unfortunately, showing up in our faith.  We are constantly bombarded with those who try to show how better believers of God they are, either in person or on a car or on the TV.  We want our Church to be better than the other Churches or Synagogues or Mosques.  We see the preachers on TV in their finest suits in the best facilities and tell them if they act in the way they see God’s plan, their lives will be better.  The value of the culture has moved us into a society that values what we can get out of our world (and our church) rather than what we can put into it to make the world a better place.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, we hear of a man who is fighting his brother over the receiving of his inheritance.  He came to Jesus to tell his brother to give up what he believed was rightfully his.  At first, Jesus rebukes the man, asking him who decided that he should be the judge of the two.  This demand was not out of concern for familial love, but of getting treasure.  First of all, for one to demand an inheritance from a brother can only mean one thing:  the death of their father.  The lives of these two brothers have changed forever.  In their culture, children had to remain with the family until the death of the father.  The males who would get married brought the wives into the home where it was shared with the rest of his family.  Only after the father died were the sons allowed to live on their own and start their own families.  All that was needed was a share of the family fortune; their inheritance.  The death of the father was a chance for this family to share in the “inheritance of love” that the father had for his family that, hopefully, he had placed in them during his lifetime.

Yet when the man approached Jesus to demand his share of the inheritance from his brother, Jesus knew that there would be no “love inheritance” for those two, especially if he DID step in and became their judge.  The brothers would no longer be brothers; they would be strangers for the rest of their lives.  They would be like the person described in the First Reading from Ecclesiastes.  “For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?  All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.  This…is vanity.”  These brothers, who were so concerned as to how the inheritance was to be shared, were too focused on “money love” rather than “family love” that the sin of vanity entered into their relationship.

So, how does Jesus get them to return their focus on the treasure that is in Heaven rather than the treasure that is on earth?  He tells them a story.  A rich man had produced a great harvest but he did not know what to do with all of his riches. Rather than keeping what he needed and selling the rest, he decides to keep every single grain, build up larger grain bins and keep it all for himself.

Just as he thought he could retire and live off of his enormous wealth, God comes down and takes his life from him.  All of the things he stored on earth could not keep him from cheating death.  And everything that made him great among those on earth would become rotten and useless because he never gave to anyone his treasure while he was alive nor would anyone be his chosen heir after his death.

Jesus reminded the brothers (and the crowd) that God does not care how much money we have or what we wear or what we do for a living.  If we do not care for each other with just as much or even more care than for what we possess, then we are truly bankrupt.  Christ is calling us today and every day to do what is right for each other and for his creation.  It is the cry we hear from the Psalmist, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

When we hear and observe that cry, then the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians ring true.  “(S)eek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…not of what is on earth. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are of earth.  They are of your old self, not your new self.  The new self is neither ‘Jew nor Greek’ nor ‘slave or free’; we are all one in Christ, for he is all and in all.”

We have to constantly remind ourselves that what we do on earth is for the betterment of God and not ourselves.  We are asked to demonstrate that with showing our love for our family, friends, neighbors and those who strive to do us harm.  We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God.  So our family needs to be one of solidarity, not of separation.  When we work together on each other’s behalf, then love is found.  When we work, however, on our own behalf, then love is lost.  Our inheritance is the Grace of God.  Let that Grace shine within you and the treasures you store in Heaven will outshine the treasures you have on earth. Only then can we be truly rich. Greed is good?  No.  God is good!


Questions for Reflection:

1. What were some of your favorite memories of childhood?  What toys have you kept as a reminder?

2. If you were asked to settle a dispute between family members, would you answer as Jesus did?

3. St. Paul implores his readers to “put to death, then , the parts of you that are earthly.”  What are some of those things that are earthly in your life that you need to remove in order to put on your new self?


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