At the end of a long day, as I lay my head on the pillow and think back through my actions and words, I have never once wondered: Did I murder someone today? Murder is one of those things where you know if you did it. It is pretty easy to get your mind around the sin of murder.
Or take adultery as an example. A man has sex with someone who is not his wife. Adultery. While I am not saying that there is absolutely no nuance when it comes to sins like adultery, stealing and murder, they tend to be fairly easy to define.
However, take a sin like greed. I see it and feel it, but it is slippery. Glaring examples of spending millions of dollars on a second home may be obvious, but typically I can’t point it out and say “there, look at the greed”. I can say “Ooh, you took that iPod from the store without paying for it.” Stealing has a line that you either cross or you don’t. Greed does not.
But perhaps it should.
Maybe greed would be easier to combat if there was a line drawn in the sand that said “anything over this line is greed.” You would know for sure when greed was there. What would our churches be like if we could actually point at greed like we can other sins?
So here is a crazy idea: we pick an amount of money, if you spend more than that amount on yourself and your immediate family in a year, we call it greed. What we would expect is that every penny you make over this amount would be given away. To church, charitable organizations, poor people you know, whatever.
Now, there would be two ways we could pick a number. We could set an amount per person. So, for every household member a family could spend say $10,000 (just making up numbers here). Or there could be a set amount per household, say the mean income in the U.S. (that’s around $69,000). The actual number isn’t that important for this thought exercise. What is important is that there is some type of defined limit.
Now imagine your life for a moment, with a greed odometer (a greedometer?) set on it. You no longer have to wonder if you are being greedy with your money. You either are, or you are not. You either crossed the line, or you didn’t. This would simplify the sin of greed making it possible to actually combat.
As you ponder this let me answer a few criticisms of this plan.
1. Yes, I understand that this is America and we have the right to spend our money however we choose. But I am not talking about Americans in general, rather I am looking at Christians. Christians give up the right to do just whatever with their money (the same way they give up the American right to pretty much do whatever they want with their sexuality.)
2. Yes, there are some families that would go over that amount in a year because of some circumstance. Someone gets sick, or they care for a special needs child. Of course there are exceptions, but that does not mean a rule is not needed. I have known way more people who break their budget over something they want, than I have known people to go into debt purely from the necessities of life.
3. Yes, I know I am not the Pope or the President or whomever. I have no “right” to hold anyone to this standard. But my question is “how disconcerting would this be to you? If there was a point out there where you became “greedy” how concerned are you about that limit?”
4. Yes, I know greed is about the heart. You can be greedy in lots of ways that have nothing to do with how much money you spend on yourself. But Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Notice, your heart follows your treasure, not the other way around.
Look, all of this is really just a goofy exercise. I seriously doubt we could ever pull this off. The haggling over a number would last an eternity. But there is a truth here we do need to look at. Talking about greed and injustice sounds good. It is kinda fun to be all prophetic and gripe about the greediness of our fellow Christians. But, you start putting real numbers to it, and it gets personal, fast. Most of us prefer greed to be something that we rail against in others, not something we are battling personally. Maybe we like it that greed is hard to define. It makes it easier to be a little greedy.