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You, Me, and the 1%’s Greed

You and I tend to have a problem greed. Just about everyone thinks other people have too much — too many resources, too much money, and so on. It’s easy to take aim at the 1% or the rich people living in the subdivision across town. In a world where so few own so much of the resources, there has to be an inequality at work that resides outside the comforting, yet untrue, lie that wealth is a result of smarts and hard work. As one of our missionaries says, “If wealth was the result of hard work, African mothers would be the richest people on earth.” As easy a target as billionaires make, there is a target much less easy and far less comfortable to aim at: You.

If you’re reading this there are some things can tell you about yourself. Some are easy! You have access to the internet. You are literate. You have some degree of disposable time. But because I know my readership, I can tell you some other things too. You have a 4 in 10 chance of being white. You live in a country where even an insincere person, with no intention of faithful living, must claim your religion (Christianity) as his or her own to ascend to the highest office. In fact, the Holy Days of your religion are often enshrined as national holidays. You are educated, most likely with an advanced degree. Your household income is over $100,000. If you’re reading this, you’re doing pretty well in life. So am I. Among the earth’s past and present population, we are insanely wealthy.

But, perhaps, our wealth exist for a reason. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

So the question for you about money is not what billionaires are doing with their resources, but what are you doing with yours? Jesus taught that life does not consist of the abundance of things, and though we keep trying to disprove Him, it remains true.

I don’t say all this to let the overblown rich off the hook. The people in my life I most worry for the most are not the wealthy, but the wealthy who do nothing for others with their wealth. Jesus wasn’t kidding or hyperbolic when he warned of the dangers of the rich inheriting the Kingdom of God. And the choice, according to Mark 10 is to give our wealth to the poor or walk away from Jesus. While it’s easy to see the super-rich as selfishly unconcerned for other (and some are), it’s also possible for people like you and me, who are wealthy by any worldly standard, to be just as selfish and unconcerned.

Money, nearly by nature, corrodes. Don’t confuse wealth anything besides wealth. It alone is not a measure of any virtue. Nearly every ignoble character in scripture is wealthy. Wealth fools people into believing their riches are due to some extra-special quality they posses. They are great! And can make things great! Either by their own abilities or via the fact that God kissed them at birth. They are so special and brilliant that smart people praise them and only losers criticize them. In the end, many of the selfishly rich are just abhorrently self-concerned and sooner or later it is revealed to all. As my mother says, “Let people talk long enough and they will tell you who they are.”

But those of us not among the super wealthy should be equally cautioned. There is no monopoly on hubris, self-concerned, and self-aggrandizement. Our jealousy of other’s riches doesn’t make them less rich or us more virtuous. It just makes us more jealous. And the jealousy of others has never prompted anyone toward sustainable change.

So, what do you do in a context where the world’s eight richest people have more wealth than the bottom half of all people?

Freely give.

The answer to greed and gluttony is sacrifice and giving. Contempt for the greedy has never made the avaricious less avaricious. The answer to constructing a more fair and just world is never to only critique the darkness, but to create something more beautiful.

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