Scared by Wealth

by katiedelp on

by Bob Lupton, January 2011 Go to and plug in your annual income.  You will see where you place among the world’s 6.7 billion people.  I was astounded to see that I am in the top one percent!  I always thought that I lived a very modest lifestyle.  And I do compared to the average American.  But compared to the rest of the world I am richer than 99% of my fellow earth-dwellers. 

In the past when I have read those troubling scriptures about how hard it is for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom, I have deflected the warning, assuming that it was meant for those much further up the food chain from me.  And now I discover that I am in the very top one-percent.  By any measure I am a rich man living comfortably among a people of unparalleled wealth.  I find that very scary! 

All my life I have wrongly assumed that I am not wealthy.  I now wonder to what degree I have been unknowingly influenced by my wealth.  How trustworthy is my spiritual insight?  Do I have wealth-formed blind-spots filtering my perceptions, distorting the light of essential truths? 

“You fool!” What harsh words Jesus had for an industrious man who built bigger barns to store his retirement resources.  You remember the story, don’t you? (Luke 12) The man made some legitimate windfall profits from his business that nicely secured his retirement years.  He decided to bank his proceeds and take an early retirement to enjoy a life of leisure for a few years.  But he died prematurely before he had a chance to reap the benefits of his good fortune.  So why did Jesus call him a fool?  Was he condemning the man for his retirement plans, or the size of his portfolio or how he invested it?  Or all of the above?  No, it was not wealth that was the problem, trusted spiritual leaders have told me repeatedly.  It was that “eat, drink and be merry” decision, the self-indulgent lifestyle that Jesus took issue with.  Good interpretation.  Fits nicely in an industrious, success-driven, somewhat pietistic, religious culture.  Like mine. 

But this is Jesus’ story.  It’s his to interpret.  “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth” He says quite plainly.  Take no thought for tomorrow, don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear, follow the example of the birds, give your assets away to those in need, trust in God to take care of you, pursue his kingdom.  How is a person in the top 99% tier of this world’s wealth to make any sense of this?  The only people I know that live this way are some of my poor neighbors who don’t have many other options.  And I criticize them for their lack of planning, for sharing their meager resources to a fault, for living from crisis to crisis irresponsibly presuming that God will provide.  Jesus had another word for them – blessed! 

How clouded is the spiritual discernment of one who has worked all his adult life to save enough to retire comfortably?  And deemed it responsible stewardship.  As I said, it is a fearful thing to be found among the very wealthy, especially when those are the ones specifically singled out in scripture as “highly unlikely” to get into the Kingdom.

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