Luke 15:11-32
Envy vs. brotherly love
Greed vs. liberality / generosity
It seems too easy to guess which of the capital sins will be mentioned this weekend. Though I won’t give you a chance to guess. We’re going to look at two again this weekend. Envy, and greed.
These would appear to be classic references within the gospel story for this weekend. And it would seem as though they do not need a whole lot of explanation. But there is one point that I want to make at the start: the only one of the three men Jesus mentions in this parable who does not suffer from either envy or greed in the story is the father. That is no surprise, is it?
The younger son, obviously, has issues of greed. But that would not be his only major sin. By doing what he did, and leaving his family, he was in essence saying that his family was dead to him, and he wanted nothing more to do with them. That is also a sign of envy, because the older brother got two thirds of the wealth of the family. Keep that in mind when we return to the older son.
The parable points out that there were people in Jesus day who were just as materialistic as people today. Materialism, and the desire for the things of this world, unfortunately almost always lead people to greed by wanting things, and envy by wanting what someone else has. It is, in part, a sign of… perpetual adolescence in our modern society.
It is also one of the first sins that we learn. At first, our needs as an infant are met by our parents’ giving us what we need. We cry for more food, and we get it. But as we grow older, we cry for things that we WANT, and if we are not challenged to seek for what we need, instead of what we want, we become greedy.
The young man in the gospel wanted. Wanted. He was not concerned about the welfare of his family, only about what he wanted. That’s a definition of greed, if ever I have heard one.
But the older brother also had problems with greed. And more obviously, envy. Where was his greed? In the fact that he held a grudge against his dad for not even giving him a goat to create a feast for his friends, while his dad slaughtered the fatted calf for his younger brother’s return. You see, in a real way, as the father says, everything that the father has at this point in the story belongs to the older son. So in his greed, he was upset that his father had given away something that was actually his, in his estimation.
His envy is clear in the entirety of his response to his father’s generosity. He did not like the fact that his brother was getting more than what was supposedly his share. And his father was throwing a party. He was envious as well as greedy.
So, what are the virtues that are opposite these two capital sins? Opposite envy is brotherly love. Opposite greed is generosity. May I give you a personal example of the change from envy to brotherly love? For the first few years of my priesthood, every time I heard someone talk about another priest with affection, or some other good comment, there was a part of me that was… envious. But when I looked at that, I realized how foolish it was.
Any good comment about another priest should fill my heart with a sense of joy. We are part of a unique brotherhood in the priesthood. And every good priest builds on the reputation of other good priests. Now… instead of being envious when I hear about another priest’s good work, my heart rejoices, because it’s one of my brothers who is being thought of well. I especially love it when I hear that another priest is a good preacher.
Envy and greed are sometimes called “green eyed monsters”. Have you ever heard the phrase that someone is “green with envy?”
So far we have spoken about anger in the first week of Lent; and gluttony and sloth last weekend. In my opinion, we are getting into more serious sins even among the capital sins. This week’s look at envy and greed reveals the danger that is in these two sins. Any and all of these capital sins can destroy our spiritual life. But as we are going through this progression, I believe we are getting into more dangerous ones with every week.
Envy and greed can destroy relationships very fast. To fight envy, we need a solid sense of brotherly love. We need to be able to see the good in others as a gift to them and to all mankind. This needs to be done even though we may not see them using their gifts for the good of others. To fight greed, we simply need to be generous. We need to recognize that everything that we have is given to us as a gift from God. And that what we have is given not just for our use, but for the good of those around us.
The last two capital sins that we will have to face will be lust and pride and we will take them in that order over the next two weeks. This will take us right into Holy Week.
So one more time I give you a review. We have covered anger, gluttony, sloth, and this week, envy and greed. These capital sins, one or in combination, can destroy our spiritual life.