On September 17, protesters calling themselves “The 99 Percent” gathered in New York to demand change from the top one percent of America that control the nation’s financial institutions. Since these Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began, similar “occupy” campaigns have spread to over 70 North American cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. The protesters are railing against corporate selfishness, social and economic inequality and the ever-increasing influence of corporations and banks over governments. Essentially, they’re fighting greed.
Now greed is a tricky thing to understand because most of us have been convinced that it’s measured by how much stuff we have. However, even if we are working for minimum wage or receiving a government subsidy in a developed country we are still in the top 10 percent of the wealthiest people on the planet (see www.globalrichlist.com). But just because we’re rich doesn’t mean we’re greedy, right? If so, what does greed look like?
My friend was a missionary for a few years in a poor country. On the compound where she lived were several families. Some of them were from the host country and some were from Western countries. One of the young boys, Johnny (name changed to protect the guilty), received a gift of a tricycle from his home country. He was very excited and rode it around the compound all morning. His friend had never seen a tricycle before and was running after him and enjoying the excitement of it all. Eventually, as Johnny got tired of riding, his friend asked him, “Can I try?” At this question, Johnny got very mad, said “No” and wouldn’t get off the bicycle. A few minutes later, the little bike rider saw the swings close by and decided that he felt like doing something different. But because he didn’t want to share his new bike, he got off, picked it up in his little arms and carried it over to the swing set. He was not going to share that bike!
Greed looks like that. It’s a staunch refusal to share.
Mother Teresa was once questioned by a skeptical reporter who asked, “How can you believe in a God who allows people to go hungry?” Mother Teresa replied, “Don’t you go blaming poverty on God. Poverty exists in the world simply because God’s children refuse to share.” Ouch. Greed grows like an infection in us, hollowing us out inside and making us dead to other people’s needs and plights. There is extreme poverty in the world, and while other people are looking for food to survive, we in the Western world are throwing ours out by the platefuls.
So what can we do? We need to fight greed in this generation, but how?
Jesus helps us by living a life that is radically different than the status quo. Greed isn’t a new idea—it’s an old one. It’s greed that caused Adam and Eve to want what they couldn’t have and then blame each other. It’s greed that has bred wars, famines, dictatorships and countless casualties of crime. It’s greed that turns the greatest expression of generosity the world has ever known—Christmas—into a frenzy of selfishness. But Jesus always attacks greed with excessive generosity. Even salvation is generous; Jesus made it free for anyone who would receive it.
Ever since I began to see the way Jesus lives his life open-handed, I’ve been trying to live like him. It’s hard, but it’s fun. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t receive (even as a young baby he received extravagant gifts). It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t have any money (he had appointed a disciple just to look after the cash). It’s that Jesus wasn’t owned by his money, gifts, status and successes.
Jesus instructs his disciples to make this the principle of their whole lives: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Once the disciples catch this radical idea of living open-handed in a closed-fist world, it’s amazing what happens. Thousands get saved in one day, there are miraculous prison breaks, people receive healing, dead people are raised up and people start living together to share resources. The Scriptures tell us that the first disciples so caught this message that in their community no one was in need (see Acts 4:32-35). They solved poverty by learning to live open-handed. Freely they received, now freely they gave.
Why don’t we live like that?
For more information on fighting greed at Christmas, visit theadventconspiracy.org.
Together with her husband, Major Stephen Court, Major Danielle Strickland is the corps officer of Edmonton’s Crossroads Community Church. She has a personal blog at djstricklandremix.blogspot.com.