Into the Mystic: Grab and Greed

Very few practitioners of religion can claim to have fully reconciled what our culture teaches us about acquisitive practices with what our faith asks of us.

“There’s a new spirit abroad in the land. The old days of grab and greed are on their way out. We’re beginning to think of what we owe the other fellow, not just what we’re compelled to give him. The time is coming when we cannot fill our bellies in comfort while the other fellow goes hungry, or sleep in warm beds while others shiver in the cold. And we shan’t be able to kneel and thank God for blessings before our shining altars while men anywhere are kneeling in either physical or spiritual subjection.”

Any guesses on whom I am quoting there?

I am guessing when I tell you that you will be as surprised as I was when I came across it and saw to whom it was attributed. This is actually part of a dialogue between none other than Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. It is Sherlock himself who speaks these words in a 1943 film called “Sherlock Holmes Faces Death.”

“The old days of grab and greed are on their way out.”

Oh, would that it were so.

“We are beginning to think of what we owe the other fellow, not just what we’re compelled to give.”

The first time I entered the sanctuary of the first church I served after my ordination, there was a poster hanging on the wall at the entry of the church. It would be the first thing you would see when you entered. It was a quote by Luke T. Johnson that read this way: “Whatever you possess that someone else needs already belongs to them.”

Christianity as a religious enterprise stands firmly outside of any system that practices what Sherlock calls our grab and greed spirit. It asks of every disciple not that they let go of what generosity compels them to offer to the poor and needy, but of what we owe them because it already belongs to them.

We cannot fill our bellies in comfort while the stranger goes hungry. We have known that since the time we began claiming covenant relationship with the God who freed us from slavery. We have known that since the days of the prophets reminding us that our wealth and our weapons cannot save us. We have known that since Jesus said, “sell all that you have and give it to the poor.”

Very few US American practitioners of any religion, including my own Christianity, can claim to have fully reconciled what our culture permits and teaches us about acquisitive natures, desires, tendencies, and practices with what our faith asks of us.

In the context of greed, we try hard to serve two masters. We are able to persuade ourselves that we handle the balance well.

In the context of race, whites like me try hard to hold on to the notion that I only have what I earned – and everyone has the same access and opportunity.

Truth is both of these commitments deprive us of the spiritual health and wholeness promised by the abandonment of the grab and greed way of life.

Sherlock, of all people, reminds us that “we shan’t be able to kneel and thank God for blessings before our shining altars while others shiver in the cold.” Amos said it this way: “take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The hungry are in need of food the rich throw away. What we possess that another needs already belongs to them. We can begin to think about what we owe the other, and not just what we feel compelled to give.

Let justice roll and the hungry be fed. Let grab and greed turn to give and grow on this, our journey Into the Mystic.

Categories: Column Into the Mystic

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