So Who’s Rich?

Today’s gospel readings exhort us to learn humility by helping the poor, but that raises the question “who is poor and who is rich?”

Are you poor because you don’t have a high income? Maybe a person with a low income but no debt is richer than a person with a high income who is over their head in debt. Are you rich because you have much money? What’s a lot? I’ve met a good number of people who seem very rich, but they complain of not having much money. Others seem to be poor but claim that they are richly blessed and have all they need. It’s impossible to judge.

The question is not really how much money you have, but what you do with it. Here are some fictional examples. You decide who’s rich.

1. Mr Jones has worked hard all his life to build a successful business. Now, in his fifties, the business was put on the stock market and he discovers that he is rich. He has millions of dollars. So he sets up a family foundation, and together with his wife he builds churches, funds projects in the developing world, quietly helps widows and orphans and after ten years of philanthropy he and his wife downsize and live in a modest three bedroom rancher so they can do more. His company continues to prosper. He drives a five year old Mercedes. They live a quiet, but comfortable life and devote all their time to their charitable work. Is Mr Jones rich?

2. Mr Smith has worked all his life as a packer in a warehouse. His wife works full time to make ends meet. They scrape by just managing to meet their payments every week. He doesn’t give a dime to anyone and worries constantly about money. Mr Smith plays the lottery every week hoping that he’ll win a million dollars. He complains about the poor people who hang around outside church and when his brother fell on hard times Mr Smith told him to get a second job. Mr Smith sees Mr Jones at church and comments bitterly about Mr Jones’ car…”It’s alright for some. All I can afford is my old Chevy pick up.” Is Mr Smith rich?

3. Mr White is a billionaire. He inherited a company from his father and he married money. They have a condo in the Bahamas and a penthouse in Manhattan. They fly first class and mix with the top set. Mr White has set up a charitable foundation and uses his contacts to raise money to help fund worthy causes. He contributes millions to the foundation himself and gives to many other charities. The millions he donates amount to .2% of his income. Is Mr White rich?

4. Mr Brown is unemployed. He lives with his mother who is disabled. They are on food stamps and benefits. They both attend their local Baptist church where Mr Brown mows the lawn and does odd jobs and gets paid $200.00 a week in cash by the pastor. Mr Brown teaches the fifth grade Sunday School class and every Sunday he puts $20.00 in the collection because his Daddy taught him to tithe 10% to the Lord. Is Mr Brown rich?

I could go on. It is impossible to judge anyone according to the amount of money they have. The question is not the amount you have, but what you do with it. Are you being a good steward? Are you helping those less fortunate than yourself? It is also a question of the heart. Are you satisfied with what you have and generous with what you have? Are you working hard and doing the best you can? The sooner you decide you have enough the sooner you will have enough.

I make a distinction between “rich” and “prosperous”. A “rich” person focuses on wealth and power, prestige and privilege and it is all about him. Therefore it is hard for a rich person to enter into heaven. A “prosperous” person focuses on others, considers what wealth he has to be an abundant blessing from God and is generous with the wealth he has because he knows he can’t keep it anyway.  The prosperous person can therefore be wealthy financially but also “poor in spirit”. Remember money is not the root of all evil, it is the love of money which is the root of all evil.

While not judging the rich, we should also not judge the poor–neither despising them nor glorifying them. There is nothing glorious or noble about poverty and the poor are not blessed simply because they don’t have money. Poor people can be greedy, dishonest, bitter and envious. It is the poor in spirit who are blessed.

Last week there was a discussion here and elsewhere on how much Christian workers should receive. They should receive fair wages according to their level of education, accomplishment, experience and expertise. It is the responsibility of their employers to see that they are paid fairly. It is the responsibility of benefactors and donors to churches and charities to be alert and involved to ensure that fair wages are paid, but also ensure that business practices are professional and people are not being paid exorbitantly.

We all have the tendency to judge others according to their wealth or lack of it. We should forget about it and mind our own business and judge ourselves not others. We should work quietly, honestly and hard then follow Charles Wesley’s advice on money management: “Earn as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can.”


Remembering the Armenians
Eliot in Love
Do You Enjoy Being Miserable?
Did They “Bury a Bum” at the Vatican?
  • Shelagh Deakin

    Back of the net, Fr D. Thankyou.

  • FW Ken

    St. Paul tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” That’s Romans 14.17. The Kingdom can be found in a tiny World War II tract house or in a 40,000 sq.ft mansion. The Kingdom can also be absent from either setting.

    That said, Christian history is filled with examples of wealth corrupting spiritual fervor. Monasticism is largely a cycle of fervor leading to hard work and frugality leading to wealth leading to decline. At that point, the monastic community dies out or renews it’s devotion. Sometimes this takes centuries, sometimes a couple of generations. It’s arguable that the materialism that infects American society is a bastard child of the prosperity that followed World War II.

    In any case, we are easily led to an assumption that our wealth gives us security, when the only security in this world comes from God. So wealth is not an evil, but it is a danger.

  • AnneG

    Excellent. I love the Wesley quote. Thanks, Fr.

  • Carpe_Jvgvlvm

    Somehow I don’t think God makes the distinctions you do. Camel through the eye of a needle and all that. And also like +Jesus says, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

    But how can you have a WHOLE ARTICLE about God and money, and not have the word “HELL” in it? Seriously.

  • Howard

    I really don’t like people using private definitions of words. As a former Evangelical, you should be familiar with this example: “Christianity is not a religion! Religion is man’s search for God; Christianity is God’s search for man.” That’s a form of false cleverness that changes the meaning of a word, makes a pun on it, and then looks down smugly on those “too ignorant” to acknowledge how profound the pun is.

    As far as I can see, your distinction between “rich” and “prosperous” is the same thing, but possibly worse. Most of us cannot guess the origins of the word “rich” without looking up its etymology, but “prosperous” clearly means “having what one needs to prosper”. A healthy peasant who owns his own field may well be prosperous, even with no extra money; a billionaire shot through with a cancer he can no longer fight does not have what he needs to prosper, though he is rich.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary appears to back this up.

    prosper (v.) mid-14c., from Old French prosperer (14c.) and directly from Latin prosperare “cause to succeed, render happy,” from prosperus “favorable, fortunate, prosperous,” perhaps literally “agreeable to one’s wishes,” from Old Latin pro spere “according to expectation,” from pro “for” + ablative of spes “hope,” from PIE root *spe- “to flourish, succeed, thrive, prosper” (see speed (n.)).

    rich (adj.) Old English rice “strong, powerful; great, mighty; of high rank,” in later Old English “wealthy,” from Proto-Germanic *rikijaz (cf. Old Norse rikr, Swedish rik, Danish rig, Old Frisian rike “wealthy, mighty,” Dutch rijk, Old High German rihhi “ruler, powerful, rich,” German reich “rich,” Gothic reiks “ruler, powerful, rich”), borrowed from a Celtic source akin to Gaulish *rix, Old Irish ri (genitive rig) “king,” from PIE root *reg- “move in a straight line,” hence, “direct, rule” (see rex).

  • CT Catholic Corner

    FrL: “Last week there was a discussion here and elsewhere on how much Christian workers should receive.”

    Actually the discussion was about how much should people DONATE to a group who makes 6 figure salaries and wants to keep going.
    The issue was DONATING money to a multi-million dollar group who SOME ex-supporters felt had insulted them.
    Do you keep on DONATING to someone you personally feel slighted by or do you give that money elsewhere?
    I do not believe the issue was EVER about “how much Christian workers should receive”- that is just the spin some put on it.
    God bless.

  • Augustine

    No matter the balance in the bank account or the number of possessions one has, if he loves money, he’s poor.

  • stinkcat

    I think a lot of us are rich and just aren’t smart enough to realize it. In a developed country like the US we have more goodies than many, yet somehow we convince ourselves that we are “middle class”, whatever that means. I know people who make more than 80% of households in the US and they still think they are middle class.

  • profling

    Since the Gospel says the rich have difficulty entering heaven, why isn’t there an apostolate to preach to the rich and or any Catholics taken in by the American prosperity ethic? The Gospel presumes the poor are blessed but the rich are not.

  • MeanLizzie

    The wealthy have their role to play in the pageant of salvation. Joseph of Arimethea was a wealthy man and therefore had the stature and connections to get Jesus’ body removed from the cross and enshrouded in a fine bit of material and laid to rest in a hewn tomb.

  • Douglas Bonneville

    Fr. L:

    The verse, 1 Tim 6:10, actually says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

    It is not the root of evil. It is a root of evil. The root of all evils would be pride. As an Anglican revert back to Rome too, I place great importance on accuracy with the Scriptures. For some reason the misquoting of this verse has a life all it’s own.

  • Joseph Dylong

    I would say some of the distinctions Father Dwight made are those found within the Magisterium. The Teaching Authority of the Church is the only authentic interpreter of Scripture and Tradition. So while the Bible does speak about the Camel, the understanding is provided by His Church through its Teaching Authority.

  • David_Naas

    Funny you should ask.
    In the Talmud, the section known as Pirike Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), there is this great line

    (4.1) “Ben Zoma said, …. Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, …”

    Clearly, this is not a new problem.

    However, as the Western world shakes off even its post-Christian heritage, one can expect a resurgence of the old Roman, Nordic, “Nietzschean”, virtues of strength, wealth, power, and privilege.
    It took the Church 1500 years to build an ethical edifice in the West, and ‘Moderns’ are erasing even the residue in less than a generation. (Maybe Walker Percy was a prophet — ‘Love in the Ruins’.)

  • Joan

    What I do not understand is how come Todd gets off Scott free?

  • windjammer

    Actually, the discussion was not about money. It was about the effect that money can have on ones moral courage and responsibility or lack thereof. The point was simple….Namely, the Church is and has been in a long term crisis due to essentially an abject failure of it’s leadership (as a group)…ie…The Bishops. Those Mainstream Catholic Media outlets continue to remain silent and complicit by ignoring it and compound it by their objectively proven profound failure to report it and thus inform the faithful. In other words they not only exacerbate and perpetuate the problem..they become part of the the point of being considered sycophants. Question…Why? Answer…”Golden Handcuffs”, Question…Who has the keys to the “Golden Handcuffs”? Answer…”The Bishops”, Question…”And how do they do that?” Answer…”Bishops make the rules…both written and more importantly unwritten of which all are understood by those effected” It’s a simplification but not by much. Add in that this is not a game or just another corporate business strategy. It’s for keeps with the highest stakes available…. Namely, “eternal souls”.

    For Fr D to reduce it to a food fight about money and salaries is both disappointing and disingenuous. We all have a great deal of respect and admiration for Fr D. But he is human like all of us and makes mistakes. He made one. It is clear that the vast majority of the ComBox comments think so as evidenced by their overwhelming support of Voris. Fr D, was off base and missed the entire point(s) made by Voris.

    This current commentary is a good try at deflection but an apology would be more appropriate and the right thing to do IMHO. Alternatively, they could both do a great service to all of us by being interviewed by each. Voris has Mic’d Up Radio Program for example. It would be informative for sure. Both have much more in common but with different charisms and delivery styles. The Church and the laity need them both.

  • Howard

    Most people know it best from the KJV, which does use the definite article. So does the Douay-Rheims, probably because Latin does not use articles. It’s not that people are misquoting it, but that the translation they are quoting has lost something from the Greek.

  • Augustine

    He who eats four meals a day and has a roof over his head, but cannot stop workings, belongs to the middle class. The poor is malnourished or has no shelter. The rich doesn’t have to work to maintain these necessities until he dies.

  • TeaPot562

    Jesus teaches two parables about wealth or riches: See Matthew 25:31-46; and Luke 16:19-31. In caring for those in need, we cannot use the excuse that we didn’t SEE the poor man at our gate.
    We are not judged by what we have, but by what use we made of whatever we have, be it time, talent or treasure.