1. We need to begin by listening to some actual Bible teaching. Jesus said, “A man’s life is not measured by the amount of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 Jesus said “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24 Mammon was the god of money. Greed was the only sin which Christ “demonized”, as if it is a Power that comes at us. The rich farmer had his barns full, had security for many years and then he died. And God said to him,”You fool! This night your soul is required of you.”Luke 12:20 Surprise! You can’t take it with you. Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:23 Jesus said “if you cannot be trusted with unrighteous money, why should God give you the wealth that is real?” Luke 16:11 , that which is infinitely better than all this stuff. Jesus said “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven…”, Matthew 6:19-20 – treasure that is secure, treasure that you can take with you. That treasure is God and people and your immortal soul. Those are what you should spend your money on: God and people. For as Saint Paul wrote, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and they lose their souls.” I Timothy 6:9 And brothers and sisters, by the standards of the ancient world, most of us today, most of us who can afford a computer to read this Blog, are rich.
So the first step, when you hear all the propaganda, is to stop and think for yourself, quote the Bible to yourself. Is this what life is really all about? Is all this lust for things making us happier? Is greed creating a better and kinder society?
And then, especially if greed is your particular weakness:
2. Simplify your life. Almost all of us in our culture need far less than we have. Cut back on what you buy, on what you’ve got. Again, the monks and nuns are the Church’s witness to the fact that we don’t really need much. Father Barnabas (+of blessed memory) was our parish’s “monk on Mount Athos”. He was chrismated here and only two years later was settled at Karakallou Monastery on Athos and remained there the rest of his life. He owned nothing and (as I described last week) he ate what I called “Greek medieval peasant food” (yuck!) and he was a happy man. So give up many things. Obviously we live in the world, and we have financial responsibilities. Pay your bills. Feed your kids. Try to get them through college. Don’t be stingy with your spouse. But cut back on yourself. Prove to yourself that you don’t need all this stuff.
3. Give lots of money away. Regarding money, John Wesley the Methodist preacher said, “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”. He listed giving second. Is that scary? Only at first. Christ told us how it works. He said “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.” Matthew 6:33 The Apostle Paul explained God’s economic system: “God who creates all things is able to make all things abound.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 It is in the nature of things that “he who sows sparingly reaps sparingly, he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 Give lots away and you’ll find that God will give even more back to you, in one way or another. Those who practice this, who give sacrificially to Church and charity, know that it works. If we don’t open our hands and let go of what we’ve got, how can we take hold of the greater gifts that God wants to give us?
We have practiced this at Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg, from the day we were founded almost thirty years ago. We had no money to spare at first, and the parish council thought I was crazy when I insisted on this: Off the top each month, we have given 10% to the Archdiocese and 10% to charity, plus many additional gifts – just two weeks ago $5000 for a special need. I figure that our little church has now given away well over half a million dollars. I say this not to brag but only to point out that it works. We have never had an unpaid bill. Our church building was paid off long ago. We have a good bit of money saved for a rainy day. (Literally. Our slate roof is over a century old.) In the process, we at Saint Nicholas have seen for ourselves how God’s economic system works.
Do you want to know the chief reason why the United States government has financial problems, why we keep running short of money? There are many economic theories about this, but I think in the end it has little to do with worldly economics. It’s because we are not cooperating with God’s economic plan as spelled out in the Bible.
Here are figures regarding foreign aid, provided by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), which was founded by the United States and many other countries in 1961. OECD monitors the total amount given by countries for economic development and needs of the poor around the world. Now read carefully: The United States is the largest donor in absolute dollars, since we have by far the largest economy. However in terms of percentage of gross income, the US currently comes in 20th of member countries. We spend approximately 0.17%. Sweden is now first, giving 1.40% of their gross national income. The US is just ahead of Greece which, despite their recession, gives 0.14% If we add countries which are not members of OECD, the US would rate considerably lower.
“Those who sow sparingly reap sparingly. Those who sow bountifully reap bountifully.” We act out God’s principle every Sunday in the Divine Liturgy. We let go of ourselves, offer ourselves to God under the forms of bread and wine, and look what we get back in return: heaven, eternity, the Body and Blood of Christ our God. Everything in life works like that. And after we’ve applied this principle to our money and possessions for a while, we learn to give not grudgingly, as Paul says, but cheerfully. For we are cured of greed. We see how much more pleasant it is to be generous instead of being greedy, how much joy it brings. We discover that we don’t need to clutch, cling, worry about money. Really, are greedy people happy? They’re consumed with anxiety: “How can I hang onto what I’ve got? I’ve got to get more.” But now we know by experience that God provides.
There’s an old saying: “God never allows anyone to outdo him in generosity”. And that is the cure for greed.