“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)
I have long wrestled with the realization that our U.S. economic system is based on greed, one of the seven deadly sins. Nowhere is that tension between Jesus’ values and our culture’s more obvious than this time of year where we devote one day to celebrating gratitude in the midst of the biggest season of consumerism that begins earlier every year. The struggle is symbolically portrayed in the scene above re-created by our niece from a picture she saw somewhere.
Jesus’ words above from the Sermon on the Mount can’t say it any more clearly. “You can’t serve God and money.” It’s an either/or, and yet we are still trying our best to prove him wrong. We are far more likely to follow the polar opposite maxim of Gordon Gekko, portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” Gekko actually said, “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right.” That line has been shortened in popular memory to it’s very essence, “Greed is Good.”
Choices about our basic human and cultural values are hard because they are so important, and in this case Jesus is a prohibitive underdog. He is up against a multibillion dollar advertising industry telling us 24/7 that we are what we wear, drive, live in, and how we look. Our consumer goods are made to be obsolete sooner rather than later so we will fill the landfills with last year’s gadgets. No one repairs things anymore; we just toss them in pursuit of the latest device, clothes, or vehicle.
Choice between God’s way and humanity’s foolish pursuits is what Joshua addresses the Hebrew people about on their long journey to the promised land: “ if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).
Please know I am preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. I love my Apple gadgets and the new car I bought a year ago. I know my iPhone and Apple Watch were made by abused Chinese workers. And yes, I also know I am the keeper of those very sisters and brothers who made these toys I take for granted every day. It pains me to be reminded of that injustice, but so far not enough to do anything about it.
I don’t know if greed is the deadliest sin, but I do know it has been the root cause of most of the injustices in human history. Slavery, colonialism, genocide, nationalism, wars of conquest, systemic racism, sexism, and every economic, government or religion system that perpetuates the power of the haves over the have nots have greed for wealth, power, or control at their core. I don’t have a solution to this basic human flaw that goes clear back to Adam and Eve and their sons, but I do know the first step to addressing any injustice is to admit we are part of the problem.
I don’t agree with a lot of what Marianne Williamson says, but I thought she hit a home run with this quote that popped up on my Facebook page today: “Hate has talked so loudly for so long. Greed has talked so loudly for so long. Love has got to stop whispering.”
Jesus said the same thing this way: “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” (Luke 12:3).
This year may the gratitude of Thanksgiving inform the way we approach the Advent season. And as we light the Advent candles may we remember to not let the true light of the world to be hidden under a bushel. It’s time for love to stop whispering!