If false humility is a vice, and I think it is, then to deny any personal virtue is a vice. There are ways, therefore, that I might describe myself as a virtuous person, but mostly I want to talk about a nasty vice that’s been haunting me recently. Avarice, greed, self-concern; call it what you will, like ice in the slightest seam that cracks a marble slab, this mammon-loving vice of mine does its damage.
Earlier in the week Becky and I received our most recent stimulus check from the government. We didn’t need the money and have already gotten rid of it. More on that in a moment, but first a word about the checks themselves.
The pandemic lockdowns have been economically disastrous for the likes of restaurant workers and airport porters. Many of those in the gig economy have been financially devastated. I’d go fully Bernie Sanders if there were a way to get money to such as those. As wasteful and inefficient as this one size fits all or most stimulus system is, however, it is probably the best we can do. But it does mean that some of us who don’t need a check get a check.
When it became clear that there would be a round two of the stimulus and before we knew exactly how much it would be, Becky and I decided we’d get rid of whatever we were given. We would find someone or some organization whose need was greater than ours and give it to them. In fact, as soon as the check cleared and the money took up residence in our checking account, we evicted it. We gave it away. You could probably call what we did a virtuous deed. But that’s not what concerns me.
From the final congressional vote and president’s signature on the stimulus package to the time the deposit showed as pending in our account to when it cleared and was ours to do with as we pleased, I found myself under attack by vice – not the vice of false humility but the vice of avarice, greed, self-concern – call it what you will.
Like Gollum’s ring in Tolkien’s classic, this money I never earned, didn’t deserve, and did not need suddenly became precious. Maybe we didn’t need it, but what if and what about? My mind manufactured an endless list of contingencies whereby I might need what I know I do not need.
The vices are well aware of our addiction to what if and what about. Preying on our fear of a future we never did control, they demand our loyalty and our service. “You cannot serve two masters.” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24).
Getting rid of that money was a good thing, maybe even a virtuous thing, for us to do. Once more, and to be clear, it would not be much of a good thing for those who need it to give it away. Virtuous or not, we (I) needed to get rid of it.
The Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as telling us it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Maybe the blessing comes in stilling the voice of vice. But blessing comes, too, when those who need receive.
Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue (2 Peter 1:5). The power of virtue, excellency, as the Greek word is sometimes translated, is not only in the good it accomplishes, but in the vice it calms.
Saint Andrew friends: I will be teaching this class and am really looking forward to it. Join us Sunday at 9:00 a.m.