July 29, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Guard against greed, the root of all evil

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tm 6:10).

The Gospel reading for this Sunday, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, contains a strong warning: “Take care to guard against all greed,” Jesus says, “for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).

This admonition to guard against greed comes in response to a request from “someone in the crowd” who said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me” (Lk 12:13).

The Lord’s reaction, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” (Lk 12:14), suggests that Jesus does not want to be caught in the middle of a family quarrel. So he uses this occasion to help the questioner (and all of us) reflect on the dangers of avarice, extreme greed for wealth or material possessions.

Most of us recall the saying attributed to St. Paul that “money is the root of all evil.” What we don’t realize is that this is not what the Apostle said. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes that the love of money, (1 Tm 6:10), not money itself, is the root of all evils.

The love of money is a disordered desire. It is what Jesus warns against—greed, the perverted desire for the power and influence associated with great wealth and abundant material possessions. Money and possessions are not perverse or evil. They are, or should be, neutral instruments that can be used either for good or for evil.

To illustrate this point, Jesus tells the following parable:

“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” ’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12:16-21).

Jesus is not anti-money or opposed to wealth. He is for “the things that matter to God,” the spiritual realities that should always be our first priority.

To “eat, drink and be merry” often suggests a superficial attitude toward life—one that refuses to take life seriously, or to fulfill our obligations as mature, responsible people.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all need food and drink, and all of us deserve to experience the love and joy of human companionship. In fact, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask for “our daily bread.” Our Lord wants us to have everything we need to live full, happy lives, and he is particularly distressed whenever he encounters someone who is hungry, homeless or without basic material possessions.

The key to understanding the Christian view of money and material things is the concept of stewardship. Everything we have, including life itself, is a gift from God. We are not owners of our material and spiritual gifts. We are stewards (guardians or caretakers) of what God has so generously entrusted to us. As the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel makes clear, we can’t take any of our possessions with us when we die. What we can do is make sure that all our gifts and talents are used wisely, and shared generously, for the good of all.

The quote from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy goes on to say that some people in their distorted desire for money “have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tm 6:10). This recalls another popular notion—that money can buy pain, but it can’t buy happiness.

As responsible stewards of God’s bounty, including all of creation, let’s strive to become rich in the things that matter to God. Chief among these are selfless love, kindness (especially toward those who offend us), peacemaking, forgiveness, justice and equality for all, and the commitment to build a better world. These spiritual gifts make us rich in the eyes of God, and the more we give them away, the richer we become.

Let’s pray for the strength to guard against greed, and for the grace to become good and faithful stewards of all God’s gifts. †

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