Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

One of the most difficult things for a Christian is to divide what is cultural or temporal and what is spiritual. We can become carried away with what our culture honors. Spartans admired bravery and military prowess. Athenians loved knowledge. Later, the Japanese sanctified honor and cunning. The Europeans glorified chivalry. The Indians held dear their spirituality. The Native Americans treasured their land and their ways. And Americans — their independence, individuality, and freedom.

I’m simplifying greatly, I know. I chose the first peoples and attributes that came to mind. But for a purpose.

Is it true?

Cliches usually come about from a truth, but eventually, the truth leaves and the stereotype remains. That is what a stereotype is — a hollow, empty truth — an idea that can no longer withstand challenge or dispute.

As Dante descends into another layer of hell, he encounters the bestial wolf-being, Plutus, who jabbers at him, but does not stop them from descending into the fourth circle. Dante has combined Plutus, the Roman god of the underworld who is infamous for the many riches in his underworld and a wolf, a beast associated in the dark ages as greedy. Avaricious sinners, divided into teams of misers and squanderers, are sentenced to pushing and pulling momentous boulders at one another while jeering at each other’s sins and vices.

Like lust and gluttony, greed is also a sin of excess. It is a constant craving for money, power, and possessions. And this desire is often clothed in good American attributes: diligence, discipline, hard-work, ambition, following your dream, shrewdness, wisdom, competition, freedom (in trade and economics), independence, and individuality. Personal fulfillment is available to anyone; one must grasp it.

These are all excellent qualities. Yet, in the nine gifts of the spirit listed in Galatians; they point to just one —

self-control.

It is the last one to be mentioned. Consider all the other spiritual gifts that those excellent qualities fail to model:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

We Americans admire most that last one — self-control. We like it even better when it is shortened to just …

control.

That circle of hell is designated to those who have a great deal of control — the misers, and a great lack of it — the squanderers. Both suffer the same fate. Those who tightly squeeze life and those who toss it around carelessly.

Some people confuse rich people with greedy people. If you are rich, then you are greedy.

Wrong.

The amount of money has nothing to do with it.

Greed is seated in the emotional center of a person. It exhibits itself as endless dissatisfaction. There is no Sabbath, no rest, no time for …

love, or

joy.

There is no peace. Impatience is confused with importance.

“I don’t have time for this.”

No time for kindnesses.

Goodness is secondary. If it is convenient. The greedy person cannot be the Good Samaritan. He is late. Or she is busy doing more important things.

Faithfulness is exchanged for expedience. When the going gets tough, the greedy …

leave.

And gentleness … well, gentleness is for sissies and wimps. Greedy people admire frankness, directness, and clear, practical language that means something right now, right here, and relates to what they want.

Americans are known for their hard-work. For their diligence. We are an ambitious, inventive, competitive people.

We are also known for the flipside of those traits: greedy.

And of all the many words that are grasped and assigned to Americans, in general, these would not be typical:

loving, joyful, peaceful,

patient (not a chance).

My sister visits Italy. What do they say about us?

Americans work too hard.

Work is not wrong. But work seated in greed is.

Work prompted by love is sanctified.

Christians should be careful to cultivate love most of all. It transforms. It swallows greed, destroys it, annihilates it. It is anti-greed.

We have to separate ourselves from our culture and not get caught up in it. We cannot congratulate ourselves on our diligence and hard-work and ignore our lack of love, joy, and peace.

To take liberties with some very lovely scripture, I would say:

Even though I speak at many venues, for thousands of people, across the nation, using inspiring and powerful words, but don’t have love, I’m just a talking head saying meaningful things without authenticity and cheapening those words in the process. Though I work hard to achieve my dreams, if I forget to love, I will be dissatisfied. If I am diligent and careful to achieve and promote myself, it will be an empty attainment, because I, myself, am empty. My ambition is nothing. Though I scrimp and save or squander all I have, it doesn’t matter. It is a senseless act without love behind it. And though I am brilliant and deep, clever and wise, or an expert in my field, if I attempt to change my world without love, I will accomplish nothing. And though I protest in the streets to condemn the injustices done to the poor, though I work to right wrongs, and fight oppression, it does nothing for me or for my soul if I do not have love.

In the end, all of these good efforts will fail, will diminish, will cease.

Love never fails.

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