The opposite of greed

In Luke chapter twelve, Jesus is teaching and somebody comes up to him with a question. “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” he says, asking Jesus to adjudicate on what is a common enough family squabble. Jesus declines to get involved, and then tells this story:

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’

And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”

Thinking about Britain today, are we in a similar position to the rich man in Jesus’ story? We are a rich nation. Poverty still exists of course, but as a matter of distribution rather than scarcity. The economy has enjoyed an abundant harvest over recent decades, but rather than looking at how we can share it with those who don’t yet have enough, we keep building bigger barns. We hoard more of it. And like the man in the story, do we risk our wealth slipping away in the night?

Our prosperity could slip away through the breakdown of the climate, and the natural systems that all life depends on. It could slip away through inequality, as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow and stretch the limits of democracy. Our prosperity is also at risk from extreme politics, division and fear.

If we read on in the passage though, Jesus has more to say. In the very next section after that story of the barns, he says this:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them… do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.”

Here Jesus sets up an interesting contrast to the greed of the rich man in the story, and describes its opposite at work in the natural world for us to learn from. And the opposite of greed isn’t contentment. The opposite of greed is trust.

Proverbs highlights the same thing.

The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.
Proverbs 28:25

This is a theme we can follow through the Bible, from the garden of Eden onwards. Those first humans can trust the generosity of God, or they can ask what God is holding back from them – and what they could just take for themselves. Or take the people of Israel in the desert. They can trust that if they go out and gather just enough manna for themselves and their families, there will be more tomorrow. Later, as settled inhabitants of the promised land, will they trust God enough to respect the Jubilee? Will there be enough to eat if they let the land lie fallow one year in seven?

That echoes into the New Testament and the core invitation at the heart of our faith. Will we trust God enough to lose our lives in order to find it?

To carry this principle into our political economy, what if a fair and sustainable society depends on trust as the primary counterpoint to the greed of modern capitalism? Trust that if we share our prosperity, we will all have enough. Trust that we have enough, whatever the advertisers tell us. Trust that if we just use the natural energy of the wind and the sun, it will be enough. Trust that if treat the earth right, and aren’t greedy, we will experience it as a place of abundance.

This is a spiritual matter, but perhaps a political one too. Can we build trust in society – amongst each other, and trust in the institutions of government? We can mend trust locally, through community building projects, by being good neighbours. We can foster the ‘politics of belonging’ that George Monbiot describes in his book Out of the Wreckage, and the ‘Arrival’ described in The Economics of Arrival? We can defend truth and hold politicians and the media accountable to their own words. Trust must be earned, patiently built, and the church could play an active role in that. It is only when we trust that we don’t need to compete and grasp for more, that we can find joy in enough.

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