Jesus said to the rich young man
God could have created the world in such a way that resources would be distributed to each according to his need. He chose not to do that. He distributed resources, and allows us to develop and redistribute resources, in such a fashion that some have much more than they need, and some have much less. It cannot be denied that resources, and also the opportunity to access resources, are far from being equitably available to all. Either God is unfair, or God does not care, or else there is a purpose to this scenario of disparate resources.
The purpose is actually quite obvious, and leaps to mind as soon as we pause to ponder the subject. God intends for us to derive the spiritual benefit which comes from sharing with each other, providing for each other’s needs. We are to live as family, and care for each other as family. In case of the First and Third World this balance is not achieved, but does this mean that every Christian should curse their own wealth and prosperity, and dedicate every financial asset to the poor and needy? Theoretically, this may sound a valid idea, but practically, it is nieve and implausible.
There is nothing wrong with the rich, or with riches, as long as they do not put those things before God. The rich are the ones who give to charities and support the building fund. We need the rich as part of the body of Christ. Everyone has a different calling, and the calling of the rich is to support charities. There are two huge fallacies here. We’ll start with the merely absurd, and move from there to the flagrantly wrong. The absurd assumption is that there is some sort of a natural connection between spending money on personal luxuries, and giving to charities.
The rich person may have given something to charity, but he did not give the mansion in which he relaxes. There is no causal relationship between the money squandered on the mansion, and the charitable contribution. Now, let’s look at a rather devastating piece of scripture on this topic, from Luke, Chapter 21. After all the big shots had dropped their big money into the collection plate, Jesus pointed out a poor widow who dropped in coins worth only a couple of cents. “This poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty. ” The implication of this is so frightfully radical that we almost never hear it discussed. In God’s economy it is the poor who give much to charity, not the rich. In God’s economy the gift has value in proportion to how much is left over after it is given. Remember, charity is not primarily for the recipient. If it were, then God would simply give everyone what he needs. Charity is for the giver, so that the giver can experience the redemptive value of sacrificial sharing.
There is a fine between greed, and the simple enjoyment and purchasing of “gadgets” or extravagant possessions, but this is all important to when it comes to a 1st World Christian justifying his or her wealth. There are many aspects of ones lifestyle which determine which side of the line you are on. If you continuously desire “new models” of an electronic item, despite you having recently bought an expensive one, this shows no compassion for the needy who have no money to buy anything in the first place.
If one simply “fritters” their wealth away on relative junk, instead of being sensible by saving for retirement and family members, this illustrates a financial ignorance. An open-minded Christian will use his wealth sensibly and sparingly, buying essentials and only a few extravagant items; of which the same day they could give some money to charity to acknowledge their fortunes.
A servant of God will dedicate part of their lives to helping, actively or passively, the poor and needy. This lifestyle may include buying fair trade goods and arranging regular charity donations. God can see into the heart of a Christian, and recognise their lust for more and refusal to be content with what they have. I’ve often heard it said, “You can’t judge that person for his riches, because you don’t know how much that person may have given. ” I ought never to judge anyone. That is true. And it is also true that in the economy of the world, I do not know how much the person has given.
But, in God’s economy, we can know for sure that the rich person, the person who has much personal luxury, has in fact given little. Whatever is given from abundance, from surplus, is of small value in God’s eyes. One thing of which we may be sure, radical though the teaching may be, is that the poor are the ones who give much to charity, while the rich give very little. Please don’t think I’m implying that we ought to judge rich people for their miserliness. The same rule applies here that applies in every other sin.
We are called to love, not to judge the person. But we can and should judge ideologies and actions, while still holding strong to the primacy of love. Similarly to many passages in the Bible, I think Jesus’ message to the young man is simply symbolic of how an individual must strive to follow and aid God before embarking on his or her own path of prosperity. What Jesus claims must be done is something very simple, but in such a sophisticated modern society, it is impossible for someone to simply throw all their treasures away.
In the time of Jesus people had lot fewer items of value, and Jesus could never perceive the magnitude of technology and memorabilia on offer today. In conclusion, I believe that Jesus’ command to the rich young man is not to be taken so literally as to expect every wealthy person to give up their possessions in hope of helping the poor, (if every rich person did this, the situation regarding the poor would simply be reversed and we would be trapped in a catastrophic circle) but more symbolically; an idea of sharing what you can and putting God first before considering your own wealth.
In the time of Jesus the division between the rich and poor was a lot more clear-cut than today, as we now find it difficult to define an individuals’ wealth and status because there are so many aspects to life. Relating to modern society, I believe the command is more of severe warning against the sins of gluttony and selfishness, which can lead to modern crimes such as fraud and theft. As long as you follow God’s will and are wise in your treatment of money, then having wealth is perfectly justifiable.
In order to follow God’s will, you must acknowledge how fortunate you are and treat God’s creation with respect; which means supporting charities and dedicating fractions of your life to helping the Third World inhabitants. God does not want a world of ruthless capitalism, but neither does he want a world of corrupt communism, otherwise he would have equally shared resources. He simply wants the wealthy to be treat his creation with respect and humility, and realise they have a moral duty to aid the lacking and needy.
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