It is easy to see the impact of greed on a culture when the economy falters. We forget that greed was often embraced, even encouraged during the boom days of the past.

During both our economic ups and downs the scriptures have given us consistent warnings of the high price greed. The ancient book of Amos proclaims that our love of money and stuff will destroy our core relationships.

Relationship with Others:

Amos 2:6-8

This is what the Lord says:

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,

and I will not let them go unpunished!

They sell honorable people for silver

and poor people for a pair of sandals.

They trample helpless people in the dust

and shove the oppressed out of the way.

Both father and son sleep with the same woman,

corrupting my holy name.

At their religious festivals,

they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.

In the house of their god,

they drink wine bought with unjust fines.

When we love stuff, we begin reducing other people to either a means to or an obstacle to getting more stuff. We can continue de-humanizing others to the point that we begin viewing people as just stuff, good stuff and bad stuff. We see this today in everything from neglected children, to work conflict, to sex and labor slavery.

Relationship with God:

Amos 5:21-24

“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

an endless river of righteous living.

Our loves direct out lives. When we love stuff we pattern our lives around stuff, not around God. As a result, our religious worship is empty. God is not interested in religious pomp and circumstance if our lives are not right. I am afraid that this is at the root of much of the superficial spirituality of our modern religions culture.

Relationship with Self:

Amos 4:1-3

Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria,

you women who oppress the poor

and crush the needy,

and who are always calling to your husbands,

“Bring us another drink!”

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:

“The time will come when you will be led away

with hooks in your noses.

Every last one of you will be dragged away

like a fish on a hook!

You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;

you will be thrown from your fortresses,”

says the Lord.

We become less than human when our lives revolve around stuff. While there will be divine judgment for greed, much of the punishment is self-imposed by living life outside of the design of the universe. We see this today in the empty eyes of teens who have every item that they want and in rampant chemical abuse found in wealthy communities.

While money and material goods are important, we must always keep them in right perspective. We can not allow the love of stuff to stifle our greatest calling to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

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Good_Samaritan_(Watts)

The spirit of much of our current public discourse reminds me of one of Jesus’ best known and most often misunderstood stories.

One day a religious leader, who wanted to prove that he was righteous, cornered Jesus.

The two of them agreed that the most important things in life were: Love God with every ounce of your being. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The religious guy wanted more affirmation (Insert smug grin.). He asked about the qualifications of a neighbor.

Jesus answered with a story.

A man was walking though a tough neighborhood. As expected, a group of thugs mugged him. He was left for dead on the side of the road. In the next few hours two religious leaders walked past him without offering help.

That last line surprised the religious guy. He was normally the hero of stories.

Jesus continued.

Then a Samaritan, the religious, political and cultural enemy of the Hebrews, approached the man. He stopped his trip to help the injured Hebrew. He brought him back to heath, even at great cost to himself.  

This plot twist shocked the religious leader, and anyone else who was listening. They did not tell stories in which their enemies were heroes!

Jesus solidified his point by asking the painfully obvious question, “Who was the neighbor to this injured man?”

The religious leader (Remove smug grin.) stumbled to answer Jesus and still save face, “The one who helped him.”

His answer made Jesus’ point even more clear.

The religious guy could not bring himself to say that the “Samaritan” was the hero, because he hated the Samaritans.

Jesus’ point was not “help out an injured person.” That was a given.

Jesus’ point was “Everyone, even your enemy, is your neighbor. Love them.”

Our current public discourse, including religious, reflects the hate that Jesus confronted.

When we are unwilling to acknowledge any good in a person or a group, we are guilty of hating them.

When we hate any person or group, even our enemies, we do not love our neighbors.

When we do not love our neighbor, it does not matter how right we think we are or how smug we feel, we miss what Jesus says is important in life.