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The line between greed and generosity

By Jane Clamp | 30 January 2019


I confess I’m a bargain hunter, whatever the time of year. I can walk into a shop and find my feet tracking their way to the stickered items before I’ve consciously registered their existence. I’m like the Bisto kid of the reduced-item retail world – that is, until the January sales, which bring out a very different reaction in me.


I remember as a child watching the local TV reports of people missing their Christmases at home because they were camped out on the pavement, hoping to bag themselves a new telly or sofa at a knockdown price. I can recall, young as I was, thinking they’d made a ridiculous choice. Who’d miss Christmas – with all of the loveliness actually there on offer – to wait for the shops to open, with every chance you’d miss out on the one item you were after?


Several years ago I witnessed first-hand the ugliness of this particular sales season. We’d been invited to a wedding on the 27th December. I admit that, as ever, funds were low and I’d decided to wait until after Christmas to see if I could get the happy couple something on the wedding list a bit more cheaply. The plan worked, actually. The set of glass tumblers I’d looked at a few weeks previously were indeed marked down, and I thanked God for his enabling.


But what made even more impact on me was the sight of the shoppers riffling through wire baskets of goods, practically tossing them over their shoulders as they delved more deeply, convinced that even cheaper items might lurk at the bottom.


The point was, these were gift packs and special treats that had been cherished only a few short days ago. Packaging which glimmered and tantalised then was now dented at the corners and dismissed as not even worth half the price. The bargain-hunters looked like animals feeding at the trough (with apologies to animals everywhere) and I was appalled at how the season of goodwill had all too quickly become a free-for-all, with those with the sharpest elbows faring best.


I’m left thinking that this shows how fine a line there can be between generosity and greed. What should be seen as polar opposites lie much more closely together than you might think.


The difference is simple: who benefits? With generosity, the focus is outward. You want to lavish the one you love with both things they need and things they’ve never thought of wanting. Although it might make you feel good, that is not the motivation. You want to see their face light up, their heart blessed.


Greed, however, is surely generosity to one’s self? It has its focus squarely aimed at self-gratification, with little thought to others. Those shoppers around the bargain bins might have been after something for someone else but, from how it looked, I doubt it.


James asks, ‘Can both fresh water and salt water come from the same spring?’ (3:11). Stretching his point, I ask, ‘Can generosity and greed come from the same heart?’ It’s something I shall ponder through this month of retail temptation.


Lord, thank you for those moments you meet my need with well-timed bargains, but help me keep an attitude of looking out for the needs of others. I want to be generous to others far more than to myself but I’m going to need your help to do that. Amen.


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