For God or for Ourselves?

Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23 • Col 3:1-5,9-11 • Lk 12:13-21

The Wizard of Id has been a popular comic strip for years. In a particular strip that could well have been suggested by our readings today, the Wizard asks the King, “Of all the major sins, Sire, which do you consider to be number one?” “Well,” responds the King, “they’re all bad, but I like greed the best.”

A tax preparer for a priest preaches a one-note homily. “Everyone has two personalities. One personality is the one we see most of the time; the other is seen when the green is on the table.” Greed is a Capital Sin and for good reason. The word “capital” in “Capital Sins” comes from the Latin “caput,” meaning head. The idea of the seven sins is that they are they ones that lead to all other sins. The notion of seven deadly sins has been used since early Christianity to instruct Christians about fallen humanity’s tendency to choose ourselves over God.

The Capital Sins are usually listed as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. The Church divides sin into two categories: venial sins, in which guilt is relatively minor, and the more severe mortal sins. Theologically, a mortal or deadly sin is believed to destroy the life of grace and charity within a person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says. “Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us — that is, charity — necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart that is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

Why confession? Can’t we go straight to God and ask for forgiveness. The short answer is “yes.” However, the more spiritually based answer for us Catholics is “No.” A mortal sin is severe because by it we have separated ourselves from God and from the faith community. We must not forget that the Prodigal Son recognized that he sinned “against you, father, and against God.” In the sacramental presence of a priest, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, although private and confidential, accomplishes reconciliation with God and the community. Because greed is a sin that always leads to creating hurt and harm to ourselves and others, it needs special the attention Reconciliation offers.

It was a very common practice for Jews of Jesus’ day to turn to a respected rabbi to settle disputes. It was not unusual, then, for someone to bring a family dispute over a will to Jesus to arbitrate. What those around Jesus would have been unprepared for was not only Jesus’ refusal to get involved, but also the vehemence of His refusal. Jesus was not going to be part of any dispute involving money. He responded with a parable that should alert all of us to the heart of Christian life: we live for something other than wealth and possessions. We live for God. Greed is always an obstacle between us and God.

When confronted with moral absolutes, most of us try to wiggle off the moral hook. We say there is no such thing as black and white, there is only grey. All three of our readings today would beg to differ. When it comes to the most fundamental of all of life’s choices, there is only black and white. We either live for God, or we live for ourselves. Period.

The harm of greed is that it diverts us from building relationships. Sometimes, however, it is too easy to talk about greed in terms of wanting things. We do not recognize greed in its many forms. We also try to spin our behavior so that greed does not look like greed. Many of us could say that we do not live to get rich, to have a bigger home, a nicer car or finer things, but Paul warns us to look with wider eyes.

The greedy protection of our image leads to other sins. Colossians speaks of lying. Most lies are told to cover up something we don’t want people to know about us. We can become insanely jealous of our image among family and friends. What are our lies to protect our image? “The check is in the mail.” When we were too possessive of our time and failed to visit someone or return a call we might say, “Oh, I tried to call you but your phone was busy.”

Putting God first is not about devaluing money and things. We are to see them as tools in our lives, not the point of our lives. Greed keeps us from being generous, and to be a Christian is to be generous. When we are greedy, we are choosing ourselves over God, and that is not a good choice. TP