Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas reflections: greed

We see in Herod and in the manner of the Roman occupation of Israel, during that time, greed in large part imposing a yoke of oppression on the Jews living in the land. Herod was living in luxury and bent on keeping his power and wealth. The excessive taxation he imposed in the name of Rome and the Almighty Caesar (as well as in his own name, secondarily) on the one hand kept the Jews in their place. But it also tended to foment the unrest and dissatisfaction of many Jews. And most of them looked forward to the promise of the coming Messiah who would break all worldly yokes off of his people, in his reign.

There were some Jews who benefited from cooperating with Herod and Rome. But the majority suffered, They longed for the coming of Messiah who would be greater than Solomon. We probably see this when the crowd following Jesus, after being fed by him through his sign (miracle), wanted to make him their "Bread King" (John 6).

Greed afflicts us all. It seems, from Jesus' teaching as well as from Scripture to especially have a hold on many of the rich. Jesus declared it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe this was simply to make the point that the rich were not inherently closer to the kingdom than the poor. In fact Jesus seems to have clearly taught the opposite. Yet rich and poor alike can be afflicted with the sin of greed. This is why Jesus turns to those around him and tells them to beward of greed, because a person's life does not consist in wealth and possessions (Luke 12).

When God becomes flesh, in the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas, we see the opposite of greed. God stoops down to the point of completely identifying with a lost and sinful human race. He gives completely of himself, even to the point of the death of the cross. So that we humans can give ourselves completely to him and to each other, in return. He became poor so that he, by his poverty, could make us rich (2 Corinthians 8).

Notice the family Jesus was born into. While not living in abject poverty, nevertheless among those who work hard, and seem, at least at the start, to be among those who are poor. Why didn't God pick a wealthy family to raise his Son? Maybe this had, in large part to do with the contrast he wanted to make between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. The great in his kingdom would be those who are servants to all, of whom the Messiah would be the greatest.

Some of the most generous people I know are themselves poor. They have to watch every dollar. Yet they do what they can, and when a few extra dollars come that they "don't need", they do good by helping someone else in need. This is the true spirit of Christmas. The true spirit of Christ. The true spirit we are to have and be moved by, as Christians.

Paul points out that giving is a grace from God. As Jesus told his disciples, we are to give freely, in the same way we have received from God. And in so doing we'll receive more to so give. Only because God gave us his all in Jesus, can we in turn give our all to God and to the world, as Jesus did. We need to keep growing in this grace of giving. And make it a big part, not only of our celebration of the greatest Gift of all, but of our lives year round.

What are you learning about this in your own life? Or what would you like to share about this?


Susan said...

Thank you for generously grasping the spirit of my post :)
I think some people may have missed my point.

L.L. Barkat said...

I think a spirit of giving is partly learned. And maybe, if we have not learned it, we must simply start with an act of the will... then, when we experience the grace that follows, we are wooed into a deeper desire to give.

Ted Gossard said...

Susan, You're more than welcome. A blessing to me, actually.

L.L., I think you're right. We need to do the good works as an expression of our faith. And so they can become an expression of that faith. Doing the things we did at first out of love (Revelation 2).

Llama Momma said...

I've been thinking about this lately in regard to my own children. And the question I ask myself is this: is it possible to raise children in an affluent environment without giving them a sense of entitlement? How to give them this passion for giving that so often (and certainly in my experience) comes from going without oneself? Must they go without in order to "get it"?

Ted Gossard said...

Llama Momma, An excellent question, and thought. And what a hard one to answer.

I like the idea of projects along the way as family- like for a poor family. To really live out, and underscore what we profess to be important. Hopefully that would help to put things in their proper place.

But also, I think it wise to work at practicing moderation. And being willing to make sacrifices, and doing so to help others. These are good to practice early on as family, and to keep at it. I wish we would have done this ourselves. I mean in this more purposeful, project-oriented way. But just a thought I have now.


Llama Momma said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Sacrifice -- yes. This word jumps out at me as a key ingredient, and one that I'm ashamed to admit is woefully lacking in my own life.

And so I begin today with something my children know I love -- Starbucks -- in order to do something special for the refugee family we are reaching out to.

Living in this world and not being a part of it is a constant challenge, isn't it?? Because, honestly, I do love the world...many times more than Christ.

Ted Gossard said...

Llama Momma, I think you're surely expressing a struggle you have, quite well. But surely you're also being too hard on yourself.

A false worldliness is the idea that we can't enjoy God's creation without feeling guilty about it. I love coffee too, and don't find the enjoyment of it, even at some expense, to be a source of guilt for me. :) All things, all good gifts from God, in moderation, you know. And God wants us to enjoy them, you know.

From what I've picked up from you and about you, I think you surely do love Jesus more than the good things God gives us.

But our struggle with sin is not over. So I hear you.

Llama Momma said...

I agree -- nothing wrong with a good cup of coffee! My decision to sacrifice my Starbucks for a week is for the sake of my children, who go with me through that drive-thru every day. That's twenty bucks we could spend on groceries for a refugee family.

I want my boys to catch the "giving" bug. I want them to grow up and not feel entitled to have everything they want. And I can't ask them to sacrifice something if I'm not willing to do it myself. So that's it. It's a start. Mom giving up starbucks for a week to buy groceries for a family.

It's not a guilt thing, it's a teaching thing. And in a week, I'll be back in that drive-thru line!!

And, no, I'm not too hard on myself. Just on a very interesting spiritual journey.

Ted Gossard said...

Llama Momma, Thanks for sharing. Great to hear what you're doing. This kind of thing is what hits home with our children. When they see us live out our faith in this way, and participate in that themselves, reflecting the giving love of God.