473) Avoiding Greed

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606 from which this piece was taken. 

     The greedy man is the poorest of all men, because what he has fails him as much as what he does not have.  He is the most distressed of all, because he is good and helpful to no one, and worse to himself.   The beginning of all sin is pride, and the root of all kinds of evil is the love of money (I Timothy 6:10).  Pride draws the soul away from God; greed turns it toward created things.  Riches are held in possession in constant fear, they cause bitter pain if lost, and worst of all, they can have deadly effects on the soul.  And riches will always perish— either the riches will desert you, or you them.  If, therefore, your hope is placed in riches, what will become of that hope in the hour of death?  How will you trust your immortal soul to God, if you could not trust the care of the body to him now?

     The Almighty and most bountiful God cares for you; why do you doubt his power to sustain you?   Greed is the height of idolatry because it puts created things in the place of God the Creator.  The greedy man transfers the confidence that he ought to have in God to the things of the earth, which are the works of God’s hands.  Whatever is loved more than God is preferred to God, and is hence put in the place of God.  Many people, for the sake of mere worldly goods, will part with their heavenly inheritance which was bestowed on them by Christ himself.  Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), and the greedy likewise sell the grace of Christ for earthly riches.  How can one lift up his heart to God when they are seeking peace of soul in the riches of this world?

     Christ says that riches are as thorns (Matthew 13:22), and in many souls these thorns choke out the good seed…  As thorns pierce the body, so riches distract the mind with cares.  You too will perish if you gather together only such riches as will perish.   Those who lay up treasures upon the earth are like one who would store his fruit in a damp cellar, forgetting that there they will most quickly decay.  How foolish are they whose only desires are for worldly riches.  How can any material objects ever satisfy the soul, which is spiritual in its nature?  Your soul was created for eternity, and you would do it an injury if you should confine its desires to objects that are by nature temporary.  The more a soul rises in love to God, the less it will love riches.  It is a good indication that our souls are fixing their attention on things above, if we lightly value the perishing things of the earth.  And it is a certain sign that our souls have forsaken God when we are too much in love with riches and goods.

     A greedy man is very unreasonable, because he brought nothing with him into this world; and yet, he is bent upon the acquisition of worldly riches, as though he would carry with him out of this world as much as he can possibly lay hold of.  The greedy man is most ungrateful, because he enjoys so many of God’s blessed gifts, and yet never gratefully and trustfully turns his heart to the Giver of all these gifts.  He whose heart is bound up in these earthly things does not really possess them, but is possessed by them.

     The spirit of greed is not destroyed either by plenty or by need.  Dire need does not diminish it, for the inability to obtain what he wants merely whets the desires of the greedy man.  And neither does an abundance of the world’s good diminish it, for the more the greedy man obtains, the more he wants.  As soon as one desire is gratified, others immediately spring up, just as the more wood you put on a fire the more fiercely it burns.  Greed is like a mountain torrent, very small in its beginning, but enlarging and gathering new force as it rolls down the mountain side.  Set strict limits, therefore, to your desire for wealth, and avoid a greedy spirit.  Do not, O my soul, set your affections upon the things of this world, for the “world passes away” (I John 2:17; I Corinthians 7:31).  Love the good that is eternal so that you may live the life that is eternal.

    Why do you desire riches?  This life is only a pathway to our heavenly fatherland, so then of what advantage is great wealth?  It simply burdens the Christian pilgrim as a vast cargo does a ship.  Whatever you love most is your God.  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).  If you love most of all these material, earthly, perishing riches, then you cannot love those higher, spiritual, heavenly, eternal riches.  Why?  Because earthly wealth weighs upon a man’s heart as a heavy burden, dragging it down to earth, whereas spiritual riches and virtues lift it up towards heaven.

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Proverbs 23:4-5a  —  Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone…

Colossians 3:1-2  —  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

I Timothy 6:10  —  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

Mark 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” 

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O Lord, come to us and make use of our bread, silver, and gold.  How well they are applied, if we spend them in thy service.  AMEN. 

–Martin Luther

 

19) The Miser

A story by Ivan Krilov (1768-1844), Russian writer of fables,
from Harper’s Fourth Reader, © 1888, by Harper and Brothers.

     “Is it worthwhile being rich if one is never to enjoy his riches, but only spend his life in heaping up money?  And of what use is great wealth, after all?  We die and then leave it behind.  No, if riches had fallen to me, I would not have hoarded my gains, as some men do, but I would have lived in true enjoyment of my wealth.  My feasts should have been talked about far and near.  And besides, I would have done good to others, and given money to the poor.” 

     So thought a poor man to himself, lying on his hard bed in a wretched hovel.  Just at that moment a wizard came and stood before him.  “You wish to be rich,” said the wizard, “for I have heard you say so.  I am always glad to help a friend, and so here is a purse for you.  There is just one ducat in it, and no more; but as soon as you have taken one coin out of it you will find another in it all ready for you.  So now, my friend, your growing rich depends entirely upon your own wishes.  Take the purse, and freely supply yourself from it until your craving is satisfied.  Only bear this in mind; until you shall have flung the purse into the river, you are forbidden to spend a single ducat.”

   Thus he spoke, and then left the purse with the poor man.  The man was almost beside himself with joy.  As soon as he regained his senses, he began to handle the purse; and with what result?  Scarcely could he believe it was not a dream.  He had hardly taken one ducat out before another was already in the purse.  Our poor friend now said to himself, “I will shake out a thousand ducats.  Then, tomorrow, I shall be rich, and I will begin to live like a nobleman.”

   But the next morning he had changed his mind.  “It is true,” he said, “I am rich now.  But who isn’t glad to get hold of a good thing, and why shouldn’t I become twice as rich?  It surely wouldn’t be wrong for me to spend another day or two over the prize.  Here I have money for a country house, but if I might buy even more properties, wouldn’t it be stupid to lose such an opportunity?  Yes, I will keep the wonderful purse.  So be it.  I will fast one day more; and after that I will have plenty of time for luxurious living.”

   But what happens?  A day goes by, and then a week, a month, a year.  Our poor man has long ago lost all count of the ducats.  Meanwhile he eats scantily and lives sparingly.  Scarcely has the day begun to break before he is back at the purse.  Sometimes he makes up his mind to throw away the purse, but then his heart grows faint within him.  He reaches the bank of the river, and then turns back again.  He has not yet quite as much gold as he would like to have.  He will wait until tomorrow. “How can I possibly part with the purse,” he says, “while it yields so rich a stream of gold.”

     In the course of time our poor man has grown gray and thin and as yellow as his own gold.  He does not even think of luxury now.  He has become faint and feeble; health and rest are unknown to him.  But still, with trembling hand, he goes on taking ducats out of the purse.  He takes and takes, and how does it all end?  On the bench on which he used to sit gloating over his wealth– on that very bench he dies, in the act of counting the last coins of his ninth million.

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more that is poor.” Seneca
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Job 20:20 — Surely he will have no respite from his craving; he cannot save himself by his treasure. 

Proverbs 23:4-5 — Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. 

Ecclesiastes 5:10 — Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless. 

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Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    –The Book of Common Prayer