I don’t know whether it is “happenstance”, or an accident, or a wicked sense of humour which causes a member of the Bursary staff to preach on the subject of greed. We have just heard the fearful story of the successful farmer who had such a good harvest that he could relax in splendour and luxury for the rest of his life but when it was all stored away he heard the dread words “This night.........”. We must be on our guard against greed which has many disguises but is always there and needs to be both recognised and treated, for “you can’t take it with you when you go”.
Greed is stigmatised throughout the Bible but not wealth. Abraham was very rich but was called upon to sacrifice his most precious possession, his son; that robust prophet Amos is proclaiming against greed, not as is so often assumed, wealth; Ahab was consumed with greed for Naboth’s vineyard; David for Uriah’s wife; Solomon was wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice but he did build the temple. Jesus follows in the same footsteps; again and again he speaks against greed - not against wealth - and he cures the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, calls Zacchaeus down from his tree and then has dinner with his family while he also inflicts the household at Bethany with all his disciples - and according to 15th century artists that house was full of lovely food!
So, back to the hard earth of biblical reality – in the days when the Bursary had two doors and the naming of rooms after Saints was being mooted, I suggested that the only possible names for the Bursary doors would be Ananias and Sapphira: greed again.
In the scriptures the greedy don’t get away with it but in what some are pleased to call the “real world” the cry goes up that they most certainly do. The Community’s stockbroker for a very long time was George Aldridge. Apart from his National Service he worked in the City, he is also a practising Roman Catholic and when, somewhere in the 1980’s, the stock exchange began to go mad with prodigious changes in the price of stocks and shares, not just day on day but often hour on hour, George’s comment on this was that the problem is greed. It is this which causes people to cheat and to lie, to have more, bigger bonuses, perhaps for not being found out. Certainly those in the City have rarely been poor, unless like George Aldridge they adopt a lot of children! If a company doesn’t make a profit it isn’t much use but I remain horrified that companies can make a profit by running prisons and bits of the NHS and this too smacks of greed. This bit or that bit can be sold off and possibly another mansion goes up in Weybridge to rival the mini castles now favoured by the premier league elite.
I have tried to make a clear distinction between wealth and greed. Not all wealth is created through giving in to greed. Wealth, you see, enables generosity; CR would never have got off the ground without the resources brought into it by the first brethren and our ability to ride the financial storm of 1987 was because of the steady and considerable income from the investments of individual brethren.
Wealth has many sources, much of the wealth of landowners hereabouts came from their mines and a visit to the sanitised mining museum down the road to Wakefield is a powerful reminder of what that involved. Behind all the skilled workers and innovative engineers and scientists, there was the army at the bottom tier who were expected to toil. So bred into the males of the North is a gene that despises school and education and creates the delusion that there will always be a manual job going, thus paralysing a lot of secondary education so that in some households there are three generations of unemployed. Much of this is a consequence of greed and of ruthless business competition. Cheap clothes are a cause of sweated labour in Bangladesh, so we go slightly upmarket and travel from Primark to M & S but even then there are questions to be asked.
Giving way to greed is totally corrupting; it stifles the faith of the Gospel and it makes for complicated living. Richard Chartres once said “Behind every Saint Francis there is a rich Daddy”. I don’t think if Francis had to pay for his fine clothes by the work of his brow or the self-renouncing shopping of his mother he would have thrown them all off. Poverty demands that we sit light on our possessions but throwing everything away and then borrowing and cadging is certainly not what St. Benedict had in mind. Is there then a safe path through the turmoil of a noisy world that continues to tempt us all to acquisition? A small boy I remember had a thing about Hoovers and having yelled at his Mother “I want a Hoover” and got nowhere put his voice up another octave “I need a Hoover”. Do we not all know that insidious temptation?
The Epistle is no less condemnatory - “the ruthless greed which is nothing less than idolatry” - but it can be discarded when the new nature in which Christ is all put on. So even though the punishment for greed is strict and painful, there is a way through, for greed is an insidious sin and tends to develop even beyond the small boy needing a Hoover, to otherwise grown adults being convinced and the powers convincing us, even against our own weak will, are daily increasing and prevalent in their campaign to make all our needs whether real or imaginary supremely attractive. Most of the emails the generous AVG system deletes for me are playing for greed but all must be resisted and a simple prayer, which I think belonged to Walter Hilton’s pilgrim, will set our minds and souls at least on the right road, if not at rest:
“I am nothing, I have nothing, I desire nothing, save Jesus only and the road to Jerusalem”.
Aidan Mayoos CR