Overcoming Greed and Envy

In the famous collection of ancient fables from Aesop, there is one interesting fable regarding greed and envy that I would like to share with you now:

Two neighbors came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. Now the one was full of greed, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbor had twice as much. The greedy man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbor had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbor had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.

Following the fable, the author of the collection wrote the commentary regarding the lesson and moral of the story as such, “While nothing can satisfy greed, but nothing is more insane than envy, because as long as the other party is affected, one is willing to hurt the other and even one’s self.”

As human beings, we are so easily caught up in greed and envy. We tend to think that we deserve more and that having more is equal to being happier. Yet, that definition is simply a hedonistic or euphoric definition of happiness. That line of thought often leads us to become pitiful because of what we do not have and jealous of others for what we think they have more than us.

Is having more of what we want really make us happy?

The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds its readers much about vanities. It reminds us that all desirous things, no matter how appealing they might be in the present moment, are simply short-lived, temporary, and hollow vanities. Greed is a false desire of having more, but it is a bottomless, hopeless, and joyless desire that never really satisfies us. We, as human beings, have tried and worked very hard, constantly anxious and restless, hustling and bustling for more vanities but we are really never really happy. Our greed only leads us to more anxieties, sorrows, and grief because we can never truly rest and be content with what we have.

In a similar way, the Lord Jesus Christ taught an important lesson and response to someone who wanted his brother to share the inheritance with him. He said very clearly to the person who was perhaps motivated by greed (if not that, at least envy and jealousy). The Lord taught us that one is a fool if one thinks that having more will make him or her happier and feel secure:

“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

To the eyes of the world, Christians are fools because our decisions are counter-cultural and against what the materialistic world teaches about power, influence, wealth, and prestige. Our lifestyle does not make sense, because according to secularistic thinking, “Why would someone trade their freedom and the right to choose in order to be boxed in by those antiquated moralistic made-up stuff?”

Even though this seems to be the typical excuse for freedom, the real irony can be seen in the self-centered agendas. We want to be free, yet this self-centered freedom has cost us so many lives lost to addiction, depression, and the like. Many of our recent social changes, ideological inventions, and cutting-edge progress were made on the ground of lessening the number of suicides, self-harms, and depression cases but these problems continue to escalate. More symptoms are diagnosed, more changes are done for the sake of tolerance, and more political correctness is imposed but they affect no one as these pathological signs and numbers continue to rise.

The Church and her pastors continue to preach against these destructive patterns, calling to mind what is killing our society and young people, but it seems like our preaching is going on deaf ears because we are labeled as too outdated and irrelevant to the current trends and lifestyles of the 21st century. Everyone seems to have better ideas and solutions for themselves, yet all of our actions seem to simply create cute, nicely-packaged band-aids to hide the gangrene that is killing our society from within. We often think that we got things handled as we like because we know what we want and are in control before we finally realize that we have ignored all the crucial warning signs and are in trouble… and that is sometimes a little too late!

What our society and the world really need is the genuine conversion of heart that is grounded in transparency and humility. We cannot get help until we recognize that we have a problem that we cannot fix by ourselves. We cannot do this without the grace of God! We cannot seek healing until we take the first step of any recovery program. We must recognize that we cannot be well just by fixing ourselves, only the Almighty can reform and transform us if we are humble enough to desire to change ourselves and allow His grace to permeate our every word and action.

St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians to put to death the parts of us that are earthly. (cf. 3:1-5, 9,11) The problems of immorality, impurity, unchecked passions, evil desires, greed, idolatry, and the like were present in the Colossian community just as they are present to us now. That is why we cannot lie to ourselves! We can only be honest and genuine, humble and transparent in order to take off our old selves with its practices and put on the new ones in Christ Jesus. He has to be all in all in order for us to reform and change our lives in the image of God who created us, saved us, and continues to sanctify us with His grace.

One of the Beatitudes is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is in the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3) This is an important reminder for us because we can only soak in God‘s grace when we are poor in spirit, humble, trusting, and conforming our lives to Him. Without the poverty of heart, He can never be in our lives. If we are too full of ourselves, we will forever remain as we are in our own self-created hell, always filled with greed, envy, and capital sins. The Almighty desires to reform and transform us, but we have to open up to receive His grace. Are we? I hope we are…