In the third post in our Lenten series on the seven deadly sins, the Rev. David Larlee tackles the insidious nature of greed.
Take some time to read 2 Kings 5:1-27, if you haven’t lately. It is the gripping account of a Syrian General healed by an Israeli Holy Man (at least that’s how it would be reported today). On the one hand, we have a man journeying toward God’s grace and on the other, we have a man journeying toward the darkness. What draws him to this darkness? Greed.
I have served as a priest for 11 years, and I have had people come to me to confess all manner of struggles with every manner of sin, except one. At this time, no one has come to me saying, “My approach to money is harming my family, friends, even my own soul.” As Tim Keller writes, “Greed hides itself from the victim.”
Greed was hiding in Gehazi’s heart. Here is the prophet’s servant—he has lived alongside and been with Elisha from the beginning. He has seen remarkable things. He has witnessed incredible prayers answered. If he was around today, he would be helping out in church. He would be sitting on committees, doing good works.
What has happened to this man’s thinking? Something has blinded him and led him to misinterpret the generosity of God’s grace. God’s grace poured out in Naaman’s life is misconstrued as an opportunity to profit as opposed to an opportunity to worship God.
Gehazi had seen the Living God at work and yet he chose to worship dead money. He had seen the Healing God at work and yet he chose the way of sickness and death. He had seen the Generous God at work and yet he deliberately chose the way of selfish greed. As a result, he lies. His lie leads him deeper into deceit, and when all is exposed, the decay caused by greed exhibits itself in the form of leprosy—forcing the point that greed is toxic, a disease of the soul.
In Luke, Jesus warns about worrying over possessions: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” As Tim Keller puts it in Counterfeit Gods, “To consist of your possessions is to be defined by what you own and consume. The term describes a personal identity based on money.” This is what plagued Gehazi.
He believed he was entitled to Naaman’s possessions and wealth because Naaman received God’s grace. His money-centered disposition blinded him to the magnitude of the miracle that God was working. As we know today, Syria and Israel have been slugging it out, on and off, for 3,000 years. And yet, this story is all about a Syrian man discovering the grace of the God of Israel. But what does Gehazi see? An opportunity to profit. He might have said in his defense, “It was only a little greed on the side.” Apparently, a little goes a long way.
Lent is an opportunity to re-center ourselves on the grace and mercy of God. That life might be brought into sharper focus as we consider Christ’s journey to the cross. The Great Litany, traditionally used during the season of Lent, leads us to pray the following: “From sloth, worldliness and love of money; from greed, hardness of heart and contempt for your word and your laws, good Lord, deliver us.”
May we not fall into the same trap as Gehazi. May we so encounter the Living God this Lent that our eyes may be free to see the Glory of God manifested in Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.
The Rev. David Larlee is Associate Pastor at All Saints Dallas. Contact David.