We think of greed as a fat cat banker who pays himself a million dollar bonus after already receiving a salary of three million for working a seventy hour week doing shady almost legal deals for people. Or we think greed is shown by a person who is a tightwad: pinching every penny and cutting every corner to make a little bit more money wherever he can.
Those are good examples of greed, but the extremes often blind us to the reality closer to home. Greed is a deadly sin because it is a form of idolatry. A person who loves his money and the things money can buy more than he loves God is guilty of greed. What is it that money can buy? Security, power, prestige, pleasure, being able to do what we want when we want? All these are the things money can buy, and if we love these things more than God then we are worshipping what Jesus calls “mammon” instead of God.
The problem with greed in America is that most of us believe the creed of greed, which is “Greed is good.” We look up to rich people. We credit them with “success” and teach our kids that this is life’s main goal. In the United States to make a million is to be on top of the heap. To be rich is to have arrived, and to be really rich is to have really arrived! We take it for granted in our materialistic lifestyle that getting more and more money is what it is all about.
The bottom line is that we have established greed (which is one of the seven deadly sins) as one of the basic virtues of American life. Furthermore, if a person is not rich we blame them. We blame them for not working hard enough, not being ambitious enough or not being a winner.
The seven deadly sins are called “deadly” not only because they cut us off from the eternal life of God, but because they really are deadly to ourselves and to others. Greed is a good example. Greed hurts other people. Our greed keeps wages as low as possible. Our greed puts people out of work. Our greed and our lust for the lowest prices abuses poor people in sweatshops in the developing world. Our greed pollutes the environment, ruins the natural world, causes cruelty to animals and wrecks the economy and undermines the common good.
Like the other six deadly sins, greed is a proper love gone wrong. Greed is the proper love of security, pleasure and prosperity twisted and deformed.
The virtue that counters greed is generosity. Generosity is the proper use of money and power for the sake of the common good. A friend who started tithing told me, “Father, once I started tithing I discovered as much joy in giving as I used to take in hoarding.” He now lives a life that is generous open, free and joyful.
The Sacred Scriptures say, “The Lord Loves a cheerful giver.” The reverse is also true: “The cheerful giver loves the Lord.”