A Word About Greed

This coming Sunday is the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the gospel taken from Luke 12 and, in large part, addresses our relationship to the riches of this life and what constitutes real treasure “in what matters to God.

“Take care to guard against all greed” The text uses two verbs (horate & phylassesthe) in the present tense imperatives, i.e., continual action, in other words “continually take care” and “continually guard yourself from.”  Perhaps this is a Lucan warning that the human condition is akin to alcoholics and their desire for alcohol, we are never cured of our greediness. We are always in recovery; always in need to watch out for and to guard ourselves from this evil power in our lives.

The word phylassesthe is rooted in the word pleonexias (definitions from Lowe & Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon)

  1. “A strong desire to acquire more and more material possessions or to possess more things than other people have, all irrespective of need.” The word is usually translated with greed, avarice, or covetousness.
  2. “taking advantage of someone, usually as the result of a motivation of greed.” The word is usually translated with exploitation.
  3. When pleonexia is used in the Septuagint it is always for the Hebrew word betsac which carries the idea of “unjust, illegal, dishonest or evil gain”. It similar to the “plunder” one gains through violence.

This is the only instance of any word from the pleone- word group in Luke. While the second definition doesn’t fit this context, it too is a fair warning for the human condition.  The need to be on guard is that if greed is a desire to get more, then there is never a point where a greedy person has enough. Greed can never be satisfied. It is always looking to get more. This is why St Paul, using related words, calls greed “idolatry”: (Ep 5:5, Col 3:5).  Here is a quick list of NT Scripture dealing with greed

  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 : We need to drive the greedy out of the church.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 : The greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God
  • Ephesians 5:3-5 : The greedy will not inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God
  • Colossians 3:5-6 : Greed is part of our earthly nature and brings God’s wrath
  • Romans 1:28-31 : Greed is a result of idolatry.
  • Luke 12:13-21 : Jesus warns us about wanting more.
  • Mark 7:21-23 : Greed comes from within us and defiles us

Scripture also lists the “cure” for greed.

  • Luke 12:22-31 : Don’t worry. God will provide what you need.
  • Luke 12:32-34 : Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
  • Luke 18:18-30 : Sell all your possessions and give to the poor.
  • Luke 19:1-10 : Give half of one’s possessions to the poor.
  • Luke 21:1-4 : Give everything that one has.
  • Acts 2:42-47 : Share possessions with other believers for the sake of the needy
  • Acts 4:32-37 : Communal ownership of all property for the sake of the needy.

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