The Deadly Root
A big store decided to conduct a big sale to bring in more shoppers. It announced huge discounts to early customers. On the day of the sale, people were already lined up at the store’s front door as early as 5:00 in the morning. Just minutes before the opening of the store, an ordinary little guy walked towards the front of the line. The people angrily shouted at him and pushed him back. But the little man went back to the head of the line again. Once again, he was pushed to the back, but this time with a few beatings from the angry and impatient crowd. Shaking his head, the little man walked to one side of the line and said: “If you won’t let me come near the door, I cannot open the store today!”
This scene is too familiar to us, especially in these times of rabid materialism and consumerism. Sadly, it has time and again produced deadly results. Here is a caption of a news item on Saturday, 29th of November 2008: “A Wal-Mart discount store worker was killed yesterday when “out-of-control” shoppers desperate for bargains broke down the doors at a 5am sale. Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said. Shoppers stepped over the man on the ground and streamed into the store. When told to leave, they complained that they had been in line since Thursday morning.”
Here is another one: “A stampede happened at the PhilSports Stadium (also known as the ULTRA) in Pasig City, Metro Manila in the Philippines on February 4, 2006. It killed 78 people and injured about 400. About 30,000 people had been gathered outside the stadium waiting to participate in the first anniversary episode of the television variety show Wowowee hoping to win the promised huge cash prizes.”
Countless examples like these illustrate how deadly greed can be. That is why in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus gave us a strong and serious warning: “Take care to guard against all greed.” Greed, also known as avarice or covetousness, is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves, especially pertaining to material wealth. It is a direct violation of the commandment “Thou shall not covet thy neighbors’ goods.” It is one of the capital sins being the cause of many other sins. Like lust and gluttony, greed is a sin of excess. However, greed specifically applies to a very excessive or insatiable desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that greed is “a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.” In other words, the greedy person chooses material and temporal things over and above God. It is idolatry, pure and simple – worshipping, not God, but creatures, particularly money. Jesus warned us, “You cannot serve both God and money.” If we are for money, then we will eventually reject the true God. This idolatry has been the cause of so much sufferings and misery in the world. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The greatest misfortune of this age is that people consider money as the highest good.” By hook or by crook, they have to acquire wealth. A person who is greedy can easily fall into the sins of disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, treason or even murder, all for personal gain. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects, simony, theft and robbery, especially by means of violence, deception, or manipulation of authority are the bitter fruits of greed. So we can definitely say that greed is the root of many evils in society. Everywhere we can see greed ingrained in every fabric of our society.
One dark night, a robber came up from behind a well-dressed man and stuck a gun in his side. “Give me your money,” he demanded. Surprisingly, the man kept his composure and arrogantly sneered at him saying, “You can’t do this! Don’t you know who I am? I’m the congressman of this district!” In that case,” replied the robber, “give me my money!”
In the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus pointed out that greed is the ultimate kind of foolishness. It was not said that the rich man was bad, or that he used unjust and immoral means to get rich. In fact he was a competent businessman. His decision to tear down his old storage and replace it with a bigger one was a wise business decision. Nevertheless, Jesus called him a fool. Why? In the first place, it was because he thought only of himself. The welfare of his neighbors never crossed his mind. He was only thinking about how he can acquire more wealth, believing this will give him more security in life. Second, the present life was his only concern. It never occurred to him that he would eventually die, or that there is life hereafter. And the worst is, he did not think about God. He has placed his future entirely on his hoarded wealth, not realizing that all these can be wiped out in a second. He has fallen into the trap of idolatry.
Let the Gospel lesson today help us firmly resolve to avoid greed in all its forms. May we realize that greed does not only make us fools; it also puts us in extreme danger of death, physically and spiritually. Instead, let us develop the true sense of security – a security based on our faith and trust in the loving and providential God.
Just as fever is just a symptom of a more serious ailment, so also greed, a feverish desire for more wealth, power and position, is just a symptom of a soul in serious peril – a soul that is spiritually starving and deprived of the grace of God, a soul that is immobilized by the chains of materialism and selfishness, a soul that is blinded by pride and ambition. Jesus now invites us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.” Jesus is the only answer to all the desires and the deepest longings of our heart. Let us learn from St. Augustine who rightfully realized, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002