“Woe to him who builds his house on wrong, his terraces on injustice; who works his neighbor without pay, and gives him no wages; who says, “I will build myself a spacious house, with airy rooms”; who cuts out windows for it, panels it with cedar, and paints it with vermillion. Must you prove your rank among kings by competing with them in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink? He did what was right and just, and it went well with him. Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, it went well with him. Is this not true knowledge of me? says the Lord. But your eyes and heart are set on nothing except on your own gain, on shedding innocent blood, on practicing oppression and extortion.”
Greed is a deadly sin. But what is greed exactly? Or rather, first of all, what is it not? Greed is not simply desire, as we are wired with many desires—for food, drink, love, God. Greed is not the fulfillment of desires, and it is not a sort of metadesire—a desire that our desires be fulfilled. Desire is good because we are wired to desire that which we need.
Like every sin, greed is a distorted, perverted, disproportionate good. “Your eyes and heart are set on nothing but your own gain,” rebukes the Lord, but our hearts and eyes are designed to be “set on“ so much more than our own gain. And this is the essence of greed: to focus on one of our desires at the expense of the desires and needs of others. Instead, we must focus our eyes on God and neighbor first. To do otherwise is to deny what we are created to be: generous.
Generosity is the opposite of greed. Generosity goes beyond justice. St. Paul writes: “You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God.”
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