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.”