In the book Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh, the author traces the professional career of the famous cyclist Lance Armstrong and exposes the dark side of the sport that involved performance enhancing drugs. It looks at how determined and talented sportsmen like Lance Armstrong are so driven to win that all other values get thrown out the window. All that mattered was winning and ensuring it happened at all costs. Sadly, it ended with Lance ruining his reputation, and titles stripped off his victories and a ban for life from the very sport he loved.

Being driven or competitive is a good thing but when it consumes everything in life to the extent that a person succumbs and loses focus of what really matters, it eventually turns out to be a bad thing perhaps even deadly like in the case of Lance Armstrong and many others too. Finally, it boils down to greed – power, money, and fame, the three things that Jesus Himself was tempted with by the devil in the desert.

Our gospel today presents us with the group of people who had lost focus on what was essential allowing greed and perhaps even power to consume them. Though this was only a parable, the parable of the Wicked Tenants enumerated by Jesus is quite detailed and symbolic. It is addressed to the religious leaders in Israel who rejected God’s invitation to the renunciation of sin and reconciliation. Their need for power and recognition was always a contentious point in their encounters with Jesus.

In our Catholic tradition, we are accustomed to hearing about the Seven Deadly Sins and among the seven are greed and envy – the two that we see clearly played out in the parable of the Wicked Tenants. Along with the other five deadly sins, if we allow greed and envy to take hold of our lives, it will only lead to an alienation from God and the people around us. Pope Francis refers to these vices as the “idols” that prevent God from dwelling in our hearts: “Does the Lord truly feel at home in my life? Do we allow Him to do a ‘cleansing’ within our hearts and to drive out the “idols” – those attitudes of greed, jealousy, worldliness, envy and hatred, that habit of gossiping and tearing down others?”

Though envy and greed are quite distinct, they are somewhat related because they stem from disordered desires of the heart. When this happens, one gets completely gripped by attractions of the world that he/she quite easily loses sense and sight of God or even the objectivity between what is right and wrong. How do we overcome or even avoid these? Disordered desires can only be overcome/negated by virtues – good qualities that we embody and carry out repeatedly. When virtues are ingrained or become a default setting, envy can then be overcome with kindness, while greed replaced with generosity.

Kindness of thought and word must always be used as a means to foster and strengthen community living, it does not cost us anything. A kind and encouraging word go a long way in uplifting and bringing life to a downcast soul. The present pandemic has made us realise that we can survive with basic needs and perhaps as we return to some sense of normalcy, we need not return to a consumeristic and sometimes even opulent lifestyle. Perhaps this could be a new normal beyond just face masks, sanitisers and distancing.

When we try to embrace the virtues of kindness and generosity in our lives, we will never lose sight of our Christian essentials. Jesus put it so simply when He said, love God love neighbour for the whole law is built on this foundation. Let not envy and greed poison our lives, but may we find life in its fullest in Jesus our Lord. Amen.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (4 October 2020)