I just couldn’t resist it. It looked so lonely on the plate.
The fruit mince pie was almost whispering, “Eat me”. The problem was, it wasn’t my first one. With my defences down and no one else looking, I yielded to temptation and polished off a second fruit mince pie.
After the pleasure came pangs of guilt. So many calories, what about the hungry children in Africa- had I just fallen for one of the seven deadly sins, greed?
Christmas is a time when the lines between greed, generosity and self-indulgence get rather blurry. As a Christian feast day, we are reminded that the birth of Christ is a wonderful celebration, a time to party, celebrate and worship. None of us wants to emulate the Scrooge of Dickens who did not know how to have a good time. Jesus, the gospels tell us, was a party goer, someone who seems to have enjoyed good food and good company. Some of his parables describe the Kingdom of God in terms of a thoroughly inclusive party where no one need be left out. But generosity is not the same as greed. Greed goes too far. In our materialist society, you could get the impression that economists almost recommend greed, while celebrities flaunt it.
As the Wall Street character Mr Gecko put it “greed is good”. But is it?
The Medieval philosopher Rene Descartes used to say “I think therefore I am”, now consumer philosophy says “I consume, therefore I am”.
As one bumpers sticker puts it “We were born to shop”.
That said, more and more people seem to be questioning rampant materialism or corporate greed is the only destiny for humankind. The formula wealth equals happiness is now much more open to debate, as it is plain to see so many affluent people live desperate and dysfunctional lives. Clive Hamilton in his book Affluenza, compares materialism to a disease. At Christmas, we are in danger of catching it as we involve ourselves in a consumption binge.
In Descartes day, greed was one of the deadly sins, the spiritual equivalent to dropsy. It can be deadly. Martin Luther went a little further and argued greed could end up being a form of idolatry. For him, the sin of greed consisted in placing confidence and trust in possessions rather than in the living God. Here he echoes Jesus who said “you can’t serve two masters..God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Furthermore, Luther pointed out in the Lord’s Prayer the fourth request is, “give us this day our daily bread”. This is a call to shun greed (bread not champagne) and live simply thankful for the providence of God.
So avoiding greed is more than saying no to an extra fruit mince pie.
It is learning about a lifestyle marked by simplicity and contentment.
Greed shouts, “you deserve more”, contentment whispers, “that’s enough”.
Hopefully at Christmas and beyond we can celebrate the generosity of God in sending us God’s son, and express generosity to others. May we will also grow in the spiritual art of recognising the dangers of greed and whilst live out a lifestyle that appreciates the blessings of the feast.
And for the low seasons when feasting is not on the agenda, may we live out the values of simplicity, contentment and gratitude. Food for thought.
Rev Steve Francis