LIFE OVERFLOWING: PROCLAIMING THE REIGN OF GOD AMIDST THE REIGN OF GREED
Yesterday, we tried to look into the overflowing of life into our work for genuine and lasting peace. Today we'll look into the overflowing of life into our task of proclaiming the Reign of God amidst the reign of greed.
THE REIGN OF GREED
Our world today is characterized by the reign of greed. This is shown most concretely in the way the economies of small nations are slowly being gobbled up by the economies of powerful nations through the process of globalization.
The current global economic meltdown being experienced by almost all nations including those in the First World would show us how empty and deceptive are the promises of globalization. Not too long after evangelists and spokespersons of globalization have passionately persuading all nations to join the economic globalization bandwagon, here comes the global financial meltdown that somehow unveiled the demonic greed behind the whole economic enterprise.
But the basic question we should ask ourselves would be: How do we proclaim the Reign of God amidst this reign of greed? In response to this question, let me share with you this morning some insights and reflections drawn from the Scriptures.
Luke 12:13-28 may help us understand what it means to proclaim the Reign of God in our world today. It's a story of a man who was having a dispute with his brother over the inheritance of his father's estate. The Jewish Law would provide two-thirds to the older son and one third to the younger son. But apparently, the man in our text felt he was not getting his rightful share. So, he appealed to Jesus for help in getting his share. It was a common practice at that time for Rabbis to settle legal disputes like this one in our Biblical text.
However, Jesus did not respond directly to the request of the man. Rather Jesus saw a different dimension to the problem. He saw what was at the root of the conflict between these two brothers, and that was no other than the problem of greed. And so, Jesus said to the people who were listening to him, "Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be"(vs. 15).
Then, Jesus told them a parable popularly known today as the Parable of the Rich Fool. It was a story of a rich man who had a land that yielded a good harvest. Then, he began to think to himself, "I don't have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do? This is what I will do," he told himself. "I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grains and all my other goods. Then, I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!"
But God said to him, "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?" And Jesus concluded saying: "This is how it is with those who file up riches for themselves, but not rich in God's sight."
Now, what does this Biblical story got to do with our task of proclaiming the Reign of God in our time? What is strikingly significant in this text is the fact that this story resonates very much with the stories of peoples and nations in our own time. Greed is very much a problem today as it was in Jesus' time. As a matter of fact, it is a problem of peoples and nations through the ages. Hence, our text could provide us some insights on how to deal with the problem of greed in our own time.
GUARDING OURSELVES FROM EVERY KIND OF GREED
First of all, our text is saying to us that to proclaim the Reign of God in our time is to be watchful and to guard ourselves from every form of greed. Verse 15 says, "Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed".
Indeed, we live today in a world where greed reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of peoples and nations. Our text shows us how conflict between two brothers was deeply rooted in greed. The writer of James echoed the same observation during his time when he said: "Where do all the fights and the quarrels among you come from? They come from your desires for pleasure, which are constantly fighting within you. You want things, but you cannot have them, so you quarrel and fight." (James 4:1-2a)
The manifestations of greed are even more tragic when we come to the structural as well as global context. History tells us that the two world wars in the 20th Century actually started as trade wars. They started as quarrels or conflicts among powerful nations on how to divide the material resources of this world among themselves. Wars are concrete manifestations of the reign of greed. Today's globalization process is a similar attempt of rich and powerful nations to integrate and dominate the economies of the whole world into one economic order. Indeed, at the heart of globalization is the problem of greed.
And thus, our contemporary world is gripped with great anxieties due to wars unleashed by powerful nations against those perceived to be threats to their national interests and security. Latest of these are the so-called wars against "terrorism".
Now, we might be wondering why in the world powerful nations on earth are engaging themselves in all these wars. Richard J. Barnet wrote some years back a book entitled, "Roots of War", wherein he did a comprehensive investigation of the forces in American life that have kept the U.S. in a succession of wars. He tried to answer the difficult questions as to why has killing for the sake of national interest become a routine in American foreign policy and how much personal ambition affect America's role in the world. Richard J. Barnet's comprehensive analysis on the "roots of war" would help us understand the aggressiveness of the present "war of terrors" in our world today. But at the same time, it also provides us an analysis of greed in structural and global context.
According to Barnet's investigation, there are at least three main roots of the wars that the U.S. has been waging through all these years. First is the concentration of power in a national security bureaucracy that increasingly comes to play by its own rules without due regard to what it does to the country it is supposed to be defending. Not until the excessive power of that bureaucracy is broken, the U.S. can not truly be organized for peace, instead of war. Barnet suggests that breaking the excessive power of the national security bureaucracy could be done by shrinking the military bureaucracy in size so that the balance of power in government once again passes to those agencies which are in the business of building and healing, instead of killing and destroying.
Moreover, some form of popular control over the national security managers should be established so that they will no longer be free to play out their imperial fantasies at the expense of the people. And furthermore, the system of rewards in the national security bureaucracy should be changed and introduce the notion of personal responsibility for official acts committed. For the system as it now operates rewards the war makers, instead of the peacemakers.
The second root of war, according to Barnet's investigation, is embedded in the capitalist economy and the business greed that sustains it. The primary reason why U.S. military power is projected abroad is to buy influence, which has been thought to be essential to the maintenance of the American standard of living. The dependence of the American economy upon foreign raw materials and war production means that certain foreign policy options are for all practical purposes foreclosed. The U.S. cannot disarm or significantly lower the defense budget, or relax the economic warfare against commercial competitors, nor can the American businessmen halt the restless, exploitative search for economic opportunity abroad unless the economy is managed in a different way. For as long as the American economic imperative is growth rather than a fairer distribution of wealth, the pressures toward economic expansion and military presence abroad will be irresistible.
Hence, Charles Lavendosky is right when he said that the "war with Iraq is not a war against terrorism, not a war against weapons of mass destruction. It would be more accurate to call it an 'oil war' – a military invasion to secure Iraq's vast oil resources for American oil companies and the American people". But regardless of economic system, an America that continues to gobble up 50% of the earth's resources each year while millions starve will never find peace.
And the third main root of war, according to Barnet's investigation, is the vulnerability of the public to manipulation on national security issues. People do not perceive where their true interests lie and hence are easily swayed by emotional appeals to support policies that cost them their money, their sons and daughters, and their own lives. Because they have been willing to accept uncritically the myth of the national interests as defined by the national security managers, they exercise almost no control over the commitments the managers make in their name. If people are not able to see the connections between the questions of foreign policy and their personal lives – their jobs, their families, and their chances of personal survival - the making of national security policy will continue to be an elite preserve and it will continue to be made for the benefit of that elite. The chance of having a generation of peace could come about only if the people themselves demand it and are prepared to build a society rooted in the politics of peace.
It is interesting to note that on the eve of the Iraq War a group of noted American personalities had come up with a document they signed entitled, "Not In Our Name". They were protesting against the plan of the Bush Administration to invade Iraq in the name of the American people. They were saying that the Bush Administration may wage a war against Iraq, but "not in the name of the American people". They were emphatically saying, "Not In Our Name".
Indeed, Barnet's investigation on the "roots of war" echoes the warning of Jesus for all of us to be watchful, to be vigilant, and to guard ourselves from every kind of greed, not only in the individual and personal level, but also in the structural and global context.
Moreover, our Biblical text is also saying to us that to proclaim the Reign of God today is to realize that true life is not consisted in what we have but in what we share, not in what we get but in what we give. Verse 15 in our text this morning says, "Your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be."
Apparently, the man in our text possessed values that are contrary to what Jesus had been teaching; for him, his material inheritance in more important than his harmonious relationship with his own brother. This is not a new phenomenon for us. For even today, brothers and sisters and relatives may even kill each other due to conflict over material inheritance. This is amplified even more in the story of the Rich Man in the parable of Jesus. Nothing is more important in the mind of the Rich Man than to become richer and richer. It never occurred in his mind that there may be people out there starving to death while he is enjoying his riches.
Stories are told that while the economies of the whole world are collapsing one after another, the chief executive officers of the big financial institutions in Wall Street in New York who enriched themselves with the moneys of people all over the world were feasting! The movement called Occupy the Wall Street with repercussions now being felt all over the world is trying to expose to the whole world the evils of what they call corporate greed.
Corporate greed is not only an economic and political issue; it is also in a deeper sense a theological and moral issue. It is a theological issue because it deals with the question as to whom we put our ultimate trust and loyalty: God or money? It is also a moral issue in the sense that it deals with the question as to what we value most: human beings or materials things?
The evils of corporate greed lie in the fact that it puts its ultimate trust in money and gives more value to material things than human beings. What makes it worse is the fact that corporations have institutionalized greed and made it impersonal. The greedy can now hide behind these corporations and thus are shielded from personally seeing, hearing and feeling the devastating effects of corporate greed to ordinary people.
When politicians and government officials are made to explain about their questionable wealth and business connections, they would respond saying: "Don't we have the right to become rich?" Yes, indeed, don't we have the right to become rich? Surely, many of us today are also influenced by this kind of value – that there's nothing more important in life than to become rich of whatever means employed.
This is the kind of value globalization is trying to promote in our world today. It is a value of self-centeredness and greed that puts a price tag to everything. The danger of this is the tendency to worship money as god. For the ultimate concern of globalization is the accumulation of more and more material wealth at the expense of peoples' lives. The ultimate result of globalization is the concentration of enormous wealth in the hands of a few and the impoverishment of the majority of people throughout the world.
Money or material possession is a false god. It is a false god, because it provides us false security in life. Perhaps, this is the reason why God said to the Rich Man in the parable, "You Fool!" Many of us think that if only we would have all the riches in this world, then we would be secured. But perhaps, the most insecure people in this world are not the people who have no money at all; rather they are those who have lots of money, especially if such enormous wealth has been obtained by corruption or unjust means.
Former Senator Jovito Salonga is right when he said, "It is good to have money and all the things that money can buy, but it is better to pause for a while and find out whether we still have the things that money cannot buy. Money can buy pleasure, but it cannot buy happiness. Money can buy a palace, but it cannot buy a home. Money can buy entertainment, but it cannot buy inner peace and fulfillment in life". And the truth is that the things that money cannot buy are the things that really matter in life; for they are the things that last and go beyond this material world to eternity. Thus, Jesus said to his disciples onetime, "For what does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"(Mk.8:36).
The danger of worshipping a false god is that there would come a time when we would be like the false god we worship. For instance, when we worship money, chances are that we would be like the money we worship. The Psalmist is right when he said, "Their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear; noses, but they cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel; feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Ps.115:4-8).
These are the serious consequences of idolatry. There would come a time when believers of false gods will become like the false gods they worship. They will lose their voice, their sight, their mobility. They will become dumb followers of something they believe to be their god.
But the worst thing with money as a false god is that, it is not only a dead god; it is also a god of death. It is a dead god, because it could not see people's sufferings; it could not hear people's cry; it could not be touched and moved into compassion by people's afflictions. But it is also a god of death, because it causes the death of people. It destroys people's lives. It demolishes the homes of urban poor. It drives away tribal peoples from their ancestral lands. It denudes the mountains and pollutes the rivers and seas. Yes, it destroys God's good and beautiful creation. Hence, Apostle Paul is right when he said to Timothy, "For the love (or worship) of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6:10).
But the good news is that the Reign of God is not the reign of greed; but the reign of compassion and of sharing. For Jesus, life is more important than material possessions. Money should serve life and not the other way around. It is when we greedily and selfishly keep material possessions only for ourselves that we destroy life. It is when we share it to others, especially those in need that we serve life.
Finally, our text this morning is also saying to us that to proclaim the Reign of God is to do justice. Verse 21 of our text says, "This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves, but are not rich in God's sight". To be rich in God's sight is to do justice. Doing justice is the opposite of filing up riches for our own selves.
The rich man in the parable of Jesus received God's judgment, not simply because he wanted to file up riches, but that he desired to do so for himself alone. To be rich is not evil per se. But it becomes evil and unjust when it is done without regard for others, or worst of all, at the expense of others. When the rich man in the parable desired to become rich even more, he saw no one else but himself.
And this is also what makes globalization evil and unjust. The richest countries in the world promoting globalization could see only themselves in their desire to become richer even more. They could not see the face of men, women and children in poor countries throughout the world whose lives and future are being sacrificed. It is when greed reigns supreme that injustice abounds.
But the good news is that the God we believe in is a God of justice. The ultimate goal of the Reign of God is justice. Justice is the virtue by which we endeavor to give what is due to each other. It requires a fair distribution of wealth, of income, and opportunities in society. It calls for a relationship in which the human dignity of everyone is recognized and respected. Justice is a virtue that we have to acquire. And this would mean that we have to struggle against the contrary values of selfishness and greed. The current economic meltdown worldwide is a painful reminder for all of us.
And so, to proclaim the Reign of God amidst the reign of greed is to be watchful and to guard ourselves from every kind of greed. It is to realize that true life is not consisted in what we have but in what we share, not in what we get but in what we give. And ultimately, it is to do justice.
Well, we might feel that this is an impossible job for us to do, given the fact that we have been saturated by the materialistic values of globalization. As a matter of fact, the disciples themselves were upset after listening to Jesus. Jesus Christ our Lord himself was crucified for proclaiming the Reign of God in words and in deeds amidst the reign of greed in his own time. But God raised him from the dead to show us that life, indeed, is more important than any material thing that we greedily want to possess by any means, even at the expense of others.
The Lord assured his disciples that God will provide them for their needs, even as they concerned themselves in proclaiming the Reign of God (vs. 29-34). He said to his disciples, "And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body. Life is much more important than food, and the body much more important than clothes...Your Father knows that you need these things. Instead, be concerned with his Kingdom, and he will provide you with these things" (Lk. 12:22, 30).
Ultimately, it is the power of God's justice that can really conquer the power of greed. And so, as we proclaim the Reign of God in our own time and places, may we also find that God's grace is, indeed, sufficient for us.