- Understand how greed can be destructive to us and to others.
- Sense how our own greed prevents justice: the more we want, the less we think of others.
- Consider how the world encourages greediness and how we can resist it.
It may not immediately be apparent why we discuss greed as a form of injustice. Greed certainly is a sin, one of the so-called "seven deadly sins," but how is it unjust? Think of it this way: a greedy person wants to have more than his or her share of things. In other words, greed blinds us to the needs of others. Also, greed naturally leads to exploitation. The root of much injustice (human trafficking, slave labor, land grabbing, war) is greed.
Turning to the book of Ecclesiastes, we enter a different genre of Scripture. It's a form of writing called wisdom literature, and it's important to understand that wisdom literature operates differently from other parts of Scripture. Wisdom literature shows us the path of wisdom by revealing the ways in which God has structured the world. Just as a woodworker is wise to work with---and not against---the grain of the wood, so we are wise when we work with grain of the universe, with the ways God has designed it to work. Wisdom literature contrasts the ways of the wise, who work along with God's laws, with the ways of the foolish, who think they can "go against the grain" by living their own way. One of the pitfalls of the fool is greed.
Notice how Ecclesiastes begins the subject by framing it in justice: "If you see the poor oppressed . . . ." Oppression often comes in the form of greedy rulers who want to have more and more wealth for themselves and who deprive the poor to get it. Thus, "the king himself profits from the fields" (v. 9).
The writer then goes on to talk about greed in more general terms: "Whoever loves money never has enough." Notice that the writer does not say the wealthy person never has enough, but the person who "loves money." There's a difference, of course. Not all wealthy people love money. On the other hand, having a lot of wealth makes it more tempting to love money because a wealthy person sees all the things money can buy.
One of the primary ways we can guard against the love of money is to give it away. This is also one of the ways God establishes justice. When Paul urges the Corinthians to give to the poor in Jerusalem, he tells them that "your plenty will supply what they need. . . . The goal is equality [or justice]" (2 Cor. 8: 14). The more we give of our abundance, the more we set ourselves free from the power of money and the more we are able to help those in need who are close to God's heart.
One of the great difficulties we face is that we live in a society built on greed. The presumption of nearly all advertising is that you need more. It focuses on making you feel that there is something else you need to have in order to be cool or happy or beautiful. And once you have that thing, you can be sure that something else will come along that you need even more. It's very hard to escape the temptation to be greedy.
One of the ways Ecclesiastes teaches us to combat greed is to take the long view: "Everyone comes naked from their mother's womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart" (v. 15). Or, as the old adage puts it, "You can't take it with you." When we come before the Judge of all the earth, our cool things will count for nothing; our lavish bank accounts will seem a liability. But those who lived with heartfelt generosity will shine like the stars. Living our lives with the end in mind is a powerful antidote to the poison of greed.
How are greed and generosity matters of justice?
How have you experienced the pull of greed in your life?
What does it take to be content?
This lesson will focus your group’s attention on the how much our society and economy are built on greed. You will help immensely by enabling the kids to “read” advertising for what it is and by arming them to combat its allure with contentment.
Don’t forget to think about how you want your group to share their justice project(s) with your congregation. If you haven’t yet done so, meet with your pastor to talk about options.
During your next session, your group will work on the presentations and stories they’ll be sharing about their experiences.
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