It seems Americans increasingly associate greed almost exclusively with wealthy and powerful members of society. This popular association between wealth and greed is partly owed to coordinated media efforts. I recently sampled dozens of articles from America’s leading newspapers which addressed the subject of greed. Almost all of them took for granted that greed is a vice belonging to the upper class, even while a minority of them attempted to justify it as a necessary evil.
The New York Times, LA Times, and Huffington Post, among others, displayed a penchant for the phrase ‘corporate greed.’ And they aren’t alone. A google search on ‘corporate greed’ yields four times as many results as ‘corporate charity.’ The mention of greed for many conjures images of Wall Street, big oil, big pharma, other bigs, and the cigar-smoking CEO who hauls in $10 million a year on the backs of his blue collar employees. Aware of the association, many corporations such as Amazon.com are desperate to prove they aren’t like all the other greedy corporations.
While Christian leaders ought to know what the Bible says about greed, as with most contemporary subjects, we too often allow the culture do the thinking for us and seek the world’s approval by echoing their message. It wasn’t always this way. If a prominent Christian theologian would have suggested in 1990 that one of the top 3 problems in America was, say, income equality, he would have been escorted into a lonely corner where Jim Wallis waited for him with tea and musings. Today, pastors and Christian professors converge from every denominational direction to word slay the monster of greed in America’s upper class. And whom do they bring with them but Jesus himself?
True, Jesus did condemn greed in the upper class. A parable in Luke 12 comes to mind in which a rich man, concerned only with his personal prosperity and comfort, is rebuked by God: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Less cited is the real-life encounter recorded in the very same chapter of Luke in which Jesus is approached by a man who requested of him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus was not nearly as concerned with income equality as was this ancient version of Bernie Sanders. He must have stunned him with this reply, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
In the context of one man attempting to use a higher authority to seize what belonged to another man, Jesus then said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The Greek word translated “greed” is literally covetousness, i.e, a desire to gain that which rightfully belongs to another.
Even as they live like kings, leftist power seekers have long exploited the sinful tendency in the “working class” to covet what others have earned or been given. Necessarily, proletariat greed is given a pass. But Jesus would tell you that greed is universal. It resides in every fallen heart. It is not limited to the upper class.
The desire among the rest of us to use politicians to plunder the earnings of wealthier citizens through confiscatory taxation belongs in the category of greed no less than anything you might have read about Heather Bresch and her EpiPen. It’s time we stop letting ourselves off the hook.
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