Summary: Greed and generosity are opposing spiritual forces. Selfishness and greed have the effect of shriveling our souls by wasting our potential for love, whereas generosity becomes the source of God’s richest blessing and joy.

Luke 12:13-21

In the days of the Wild West there was an armed bank robbery in California involving a large sum of money. The bank hired a bounty hunter to track down the thief, and when the search led to Mexico he realized he’d need to hire an interpreter. One was found, and the bounty hunter promised a handsome reward if they recovered the money.

The robber was eventually captured at gunpoint. The bounty hunter asked, through the interpreter, where the money was hidden. The thief replied in Spanish that he had no idea of what they were talking about. But having solid evidence of his guilt, the bounty hunter said to the interpreter, “Tell him if he doesn’t tell me where the money is, I’ll blow his head off. I’m not bluffing.”

Believing him, the robber told the interpreter exactly where it was hidden. “What did he say?” the bounty hunter asked. After a moment’s hesitation, the interpreter answered, “Senor, he says he’s ready to die like a man.”

That’s a fictitious story, of course, but the sin of greed is every bit as deadly. Banks, corporations, the wealthy and those in power often choose selfish gain over the good of others. Income inequality has skyrocketed in the past several decades, and with it an unsustainable level of social injustice. The top 1% of households now own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. (Repeat.) Let that sink in. How has it come to this? The answer is simple: greed, the cause of untold suffering and oppression in the world.

Greed is defined as “the selfish desire for more of something than is needed, to the detriment of another.” That last phrase is a crucial part of the definition: “to the detriment of another.” When we selfishly acquire and amass more money or luxuries than we need, it always comes at the expense of others.

In this account, Jesus was approached by a man with a complaint about his brother keeping the family inheritance for himself. The oldest son was already given a double share under Jewish law, but he wanted to keep it all. Disputes of this kind were normally settled by rabbis, but rather than acting as a judge in personal disputes, Jesus used the opportunity to warn against the spiritual danger of greed for any of us.

In his parable, a rich man chose to hoard his good crop so that he could live in selfish comfort, rather than caring about helping his neighbors. But that very night his life was required of him by God, and his greediness was suddenly exposed for the sin it was. By failing to share his blessings, he had missed the spiritual value of generosity.

We know John Wesley as the leader of the Methodist movement. But not many realize that he also earned a fortune from the sale of his writings, making him one of England’s wealthiest men. Yet, throughout his life he lived on the same modest income and gave away all the rest, the equivalent of $50 million in today’s currency. He invested his wealth, not in personal comforts and luxuries, but in the cause of God’s church and advancing his Kingdom. He very wisely used it all for the sake of love. Jesus spoke of this as storing up our treasure in heaven.

I love the idea that in the next life we’ll see all the good our giving has done, the fruits of our generosity--whether person-to-person or charitable giving--and the blessing it has been to others. It’s a beautiful thought, and an inspiration to share more of our worldly riches with those who are in need.

Greed and generosity are opposing spiritual forces. Selfishness and greed have the effect of shriveling our souls by wasting our potential for love, whereas generosity becomes the source of God’s richest blessing and joy. He wants us to live as instruments of his love and goodness toward others. And just as it pleases parents to see their young children sharing something of theirs with another child, it greatly pleases him when we share our blessings. God honors and rewards generosity. It’s one of the most important spiritual laws of the Kingdom.

“Cast your bread on the waters, for you shall find it again after many days,”, in the words of Ecclesiastes (11:1). Jesus said something very similar when he taught, “Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

An example of that principle is found in the story of two young men who were students at Stanford University in its first class of 1891. With their funds desperately low, they had the inspiration to invite the world-famous concert pianist Ignacy Paderewski to perform on campus, devoting any profits from the ticket sales to their tuition costs. Paderewski’s manager asked for a guarantee of $2000, which they agreed to pay.

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