On a weekend in which Jesus enjoins us to be on guard against all greed, it is perhaps surprising that I begin this column by examining the 1987 movie Wall Street, in which Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko gave an insightful speech where he said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” He went on to make the point that greed is a clean drive that “captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”  I will concede that there is a great deal of truth to Mr. Gekko’s observation regarding the things that greed can end up achieving not all of which are material, but you will notice – and he himself admits to it – that ‘good’ is an insufficient word to describe Greed.  Greed always is a means to an end, but is not a good in and of itself, and the things greed leads to are unfulfilling besides, always leaving us wanting more.  Greed is a black hole that way.

That is when all things become vanity.  That is when our possessions possess us.  That is when we begin to accumulate stuff as well as the stuff that stuff goes in, and then we need more places for that stuff besides.  Think of the storage bins, then the miscellaneous drawers and shelves, then the closets, and basements, and attics, and garages, and PODS, and Barns that are filled with stuff, our stuff.  But we’re not done getting new stuff because we are made to feel like we’re missing out on stuff and before you know it, well, you’ve got a lot of stuff (for your kids and friends to go through down the line) while unfortunately others who actually need stuff do not have it.  Maybe it is time to do an inventory of our stuff?  And just as Greed is not inherently good, it’s not that our stuff is inherently bad.  It simply gives us pause to ask what does life consist of?  Jesus examines the effect of greed on the life of the rich man and who is making demands of him: his harvest, his larger and larger barns, his stuff – all his stuff!  Instead of being lifted up in his own estimation, he became weighed down by the things he had accumulated.  He is less nimble and less able to move toward what actually matters.  What a poor, rich man – all the things he thought would sustain him have instead taken his life!

The antidote to greed is generosity, but not because it redistributes wealth (and if we take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, we end up making life about possessions and a sort of communism), but because generosity pulls us out of ourselves and puts the focus of life upon others.  That is the model of Jesus as he put his own desires aside to do the will of his Father and to serve others, even to the point of giving up his own life.  It is another word for love.  In this we can find an even greater enjoyment of life and find within ourselves besides a great impetus for moving forward with hope, especially of the life to come.  As we pause to ask, “what does life consist of?” we can say, for a disciple, generosity ought to be a part of life.


Fr. Luke