"The Cycle of Unrewarded Greed"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon August 2, 1998
Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
Consider the difference between "wants" and "needs." Having a clear understanding of the meaning of these two words will mean the difference of whether you understand this morning's scripture lessons or not.
The actual story of our text begins before verse 13. Before Jesus is confronted by the question from the man in the crowd, Jesus is dining with the Pharisees. At the end of the 11th chapter of Luke, we find Jesus using the strongest language found in the Gospels to admonish the behavior of these religious leaders of the synagogue. Known as the "six woes", Jesus tells the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that they are "full of greed and wickedness." (11:39). Following this confrontation, Jesus steps out into a crowd of "many thousands" (12:1). The crowd is so large that they were "trampling on one another."
As Jesus begins to address them, he states, "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." With this background, the message of the text begins to have a context in which the message has powerful impact. Jesus is faced with all of the characteristics of human greed: from the two faced greed of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who exploit the common folk for their own personal gain and power, to a swarm of people ready to trample one another to gain access to the company of Jesus.
And Jesus shouts out a warning to those would be followers who live by the example of the Pharisees, "Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Yeast is the fermentation agent, allowed to manifest itself in the lives of others, greed spreads.
Out of this, comes a question from one in the crowd, (which is the beginning of our scripture text), "tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." To which Jesus replies that he is not appointed to be judge or arbiter. Rather he continues his confrontation against greed as states another warning to the crowd, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (vs.14).
What is the difference between a need and a want? Following this text in Luke there is a verse which concludes the discourse of Jesus on greed in which he states, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." That is something we really need, and it is supplied to us by God. What we need is always supplied by God. When we think about what we want, we exclude God. What we want comes from a posture of arrogance; what we need comes from a posture of humility. A need satisfies, but a want breeds the cycle of unrewarded greed. The more we want, the more we want. We are never satisfied and we just want more.
Inflation is an example of a the cycle of unrewarded greed. We keeping upping the price, but the value remains the same. A loaf of bread 25 years ago is still a loaf of bread today, but inflation means that it will cost more year after year. When we think about what we want, we are filled with the yeast of the Pharisees .... which is hypocrisy ... they cycle of wanting and never getting what we want.Many parents today have developed an unfortunate habit in speaking to their children. Parents will say, "I want you to go to bed," "I want you to pick up your room." Many sentences in which a parent directs a child begins with "I want" or "I don't want." "I don't want to hear any noise out of you." "I don't want you around those kids ... I don't want you watching that TV program." The child's reaction to those statements may either be willing compliance or rebellious defiance. In the process, a child does not learn to understand the nature of what is needed in the relationship.
We make things difficult for ourselves when we are governed by what we want. It is very easy to say one thing but do another. When we are governed by what we want, we will say, "Love one another" but we take more for ourselves while someone else goes hungry. And that's the dilemma of the Pharisees. They teach a religious truth but their behavior betrays them.
To stop the cycle of unrewarded greed we must no longer want to want what we want. Instead we are to focus on what is needed. We begin by understanding that our needs are met when we are in touch with God. The image that Jesus uses is the image of putting treasures where moth and rust will not consume, but putting our treasures on things which pertain to heaven.
The rich fool hoarded. He wanted to have it all and keep it to himself. But in so doing, he separated himself from the kingdom of God which God had promised to him. While he was satisfying his own pleasure he lost sight of the Kingdom of God.
To end the cycle of unrewarded greed in our own lives we must be proactive and deliberate about making changes in our life to end hypocrisy. The way Jesus put it is to make our outer nature reflect our inner nature. In other words we are to make our faith consistent, what is in our heart is reflected in our behavior. We cannot profess to love one another and at the same time seek an advantage over our neighbor. If we know in our heart it is wrong to bear false witness, or lie then doing so betrays us. The yeast of the Pharisees is this kind of hypocrisy.
This past week, the giant Powerball jackpot took front page headlines. People were interviewed about what they would want if they won all that money. All of us would like to be wealthy and be able to afford to do what ever we want, but in so doing we have to make a tremendous sacrifice. We trade off the long term reward of enjoying the Kingdom of God for the short term pleasure of basking in our own temporary Kingdom of pleasure and self indulgence. Unless of course, the winner of such a tremendous jackpot would divide the winnings with those in need as opposed to those in want. There are stories upon stories of people who came into wealth only to separate themselves from friends and who, like the rich fool, stored up their
treasures for their own pleasures. The cycle of unrewarded greed leads to
Begin by looking to your inner nature where truth and integrity reside. Ask yourself the question, what do I need, what does my family need, what does my earth need, what does my neighbor need? Knowing that God has given you kingdom, what response can you make that will benefit yourself and others in the generous outpouring of your life meeting needs rather than wants.
Jesus offers us a simple meal of bread and juice. In this meal we receive what we really need. It is not meant to nourish us and supply all the minimum daily requirements found in a balanced diet. The table of our Lord is set that we might receive the forgiveness of sin and be blessed in the participation in Christ's life. Christ gave of himself for us as we are to do for others. Christ sought no personal gain, but lived to love others with God's love. Jesus knew exactly what we needed and showed us a way of truth and life.
The difference between wants and needs is known by our heart. For where
our treasure is, there our heart will be also (12:34). Amen!