Proper 13(C): Craving God’s Love
By: The Rev. Oscar A. Rozo
When I think about greed—the excessive desire for more of something regardless of our need—I think about the Grinch from Dr. Seuss, Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, but I would never think about the Gospel of Luke.
In Luke 12:13-21, we hear the story of a man who is devastated by the fact that his brother does not want to share the family’s inheritance with him. As Jesus listens to this man’s dilemma, Jesus says to the crowd: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” Lk 12:15 (NRSV).
According the Synopsis of the Four Gospels edited by Kurt Aland, no other gospel has records of such encounter with Jesus, and yet the Greek word used in this passage for greed (pleonexia) is only recorded elsewhere in scripture a few times.
In the context of Luke 12, pleonexia refers to the human sense of avarice, greed, craving, and covetous practices. Jesus illustrates this with a parable. Luke 12:16-21 says: “Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
In the biblical sense, pleonexia refers to those who have an excessive desire for power through material possessions. Although we have observed images of greed throughout human history, I wonder what pleonexia looks like in today’s world?
In todays world, it is not a secret that pleonexia has gone beyond the individual desire for more. Now, we are well-acquainted with corporate greed. We live in a culture in which pleonexia controls life itself, so much so that schools seem to value the idea of success over all else. We are obsessed with our physical appearance and with a ridiculous desire to have more money, more power, and more material things so we can succeed in life. Perhaps the problem resides on our eagerness to use pleonexia to control something that cannot be controlled: life itself. As Jesus says in the parable: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God,” pleonexia limits us from storing up treasures toward God.
Perhaps the only answer to pleonexia, is a different kind of pleonexia—one that is not focused on the individual, but rather is focused on a craving for mutual love. Take for instance the parable of the long spoons. “One day a man said to God, ‘God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.’ God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, ‘You have seen Hell.’ Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The man said, “I don’t understand.” God smiled. “It is simple,” he said, “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves.” Perhaps it is this kind of pleonexia—this craving for God’s love and grace that will bring us closer to the One who created us.
 The Parable of the Long Handle Spoons, attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok.
The Rev. Oscar A. Rozo is an Episcopal priest serving as priest in charge of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (Diocese of Milwaukee). Oscar is originally from Bogota, Colombia and moved to the U.S. in 2004. He now lives in Wisconsin with his wife, The Rev. Elizabeth Tester, their puppy Amos, and kitty Batsheva.