-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is related to last week's post, and a larger post about the Seven Virtues. Consider checking those out too if you have time. (Charity is the virtue tied to the deadly sin of Greed.)
Charity is a Double-Edged Sword
Self-Centered Versus Selfish
In April of 2014 I picked up my Common English Bible, my go-to translation, and looked up Romans 8:6-11. I immediately saw the translation team's choice of using "selfish" and "self-centered" interchangeably like they were the the same thing. I have strong feelings about this subject, so if you want more than my TL:DR I'm about to give, click the link and read the whole thing before moving on.
Basically, we are all born self-centered. As we grow we up we reach this moment where we realize the world around us. At that moment we can become selfish or selfless. Self-centered people are not selfish. They don't get how their actions are helping or hurting the world around them, because they cannot see beyond themselves. There's something magical about this time in our lives. We are like Adam or Eve in the garden. Living in ignorant bliss. Then, like Adam and Eve they eat from that tree of knowledge, and know.
What we do with that knowledge sets the tone for how we act as adults.
Selfishness Does Not Equals Greed.
There will always come a time when selfishness is necessary for our survival. It's healthy when our selfishness is life-giving. It's okay to tell a group that you can't do something because you truly don't have time, or your focus has to be spent on something else.
You are a living machine, meant to work continuously for 80+ years. That's a very long time for one machine to work without stop. Christians are called to see the need in the world and meet it, but it's impossible to meet that need if we can't even meet our own needs. It is not greedy to engage in self-care. It can be selfish, but we need to de-stigmatize that word when it comes to healthy selfishness.
Greed Is Always Selfish.
Greed is the ultimate deadly sin. All the other deadly sins (sloth, gluttony, lust, envy, pride, wrath) are rooted from a place of greed. Greed is when selfish desire knowingly takes from the need of those around them. It lacks any and all sacrifice on the person engaging in it.
We have to be careful how we throw around that scarlet G. It's easy to see someone taking from the needs of others and just throw the word "greed" all over it. We have to remember that greed comes from a place of selfishness, not self-centeredness. You tell a self-centered person they are being greedy they will deny it. That's because they can't see beyond themselves. In those moments, you have to play the serpent and take them out of their metaphorical Eden.
Yeah, I wrote it. This should bring home the seriousness of the task at hand. By helping a person understand the world around him or her, you are forcing them out of their Garden of Eden. You are their bad guy. If being the bad guy comes from a place of selflessness than it's right and ultimately good. But, if taking someone out of their garden is for personal gain, or selfish, then you are truly the bad guy.
As an important side note: This is part of the reason a trained minister is so important for the church. A minister is more than just sharing their opinion on a Biblical text. They are also caregivers, and mentors. A good minister will keep a group from flipping out and raging, because a good minister will see the complexity of a situation. Those ministers are there for the entire Body of Christ, not just the small group they are personally attached to. They will see the wholistic and holistic calling to heal all. Sometimes, they will personally be the "bad guy" because being anything else while being the leader would be selfish. Sometimes, it's greedy to be the person who is liked. No one wants to be the bad guy, but really good leaders will be because it's the right thing to do.
That means greed is the easiest sin to accidentally fall into. It can be greedy to force someone out of their self-centeredness, but it could also be greedy to allow someone to continue living into it. It can be greedy to be selfish, but in the right circumstances it might not be. It requires reading the situation, and understanding the circumstances.
Once greed has its hold it will naturally fall into any of the other six deadly sins. It will always start with greed, and greed will always kill something righteous. Always. It's the easiest to accidentally fall into, and its target gets hit the hardest.
Next week we'll talk about Charity, its virtue, as it can be subverted and misused. Charity is not always a good thing.