I was recently in a conversation with someone who said that the billionaires of the world like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates could be saving so many lives if they gave up their massive fortunes towards acts of charity. The argument was that because they had the power to help people with their wealth but did not, they were immoral.
The question I asked this person was a simple one: “Couldn’t you use your money to save lives?”
Someone once said of socialism that it never works out because eventually you run out of other people’s money. The key sentiment in this phrase is that this ideology always seeks to use the wealth of others to relieve the problems of the world. If only the super-rich would stop being super-rich, then the world would be paradise.
Now, to be clear, Christ always warns against riches. He says in the Gospels that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to get into heaven (Mark 10:25). The are several parables, like that of The Rich Man and Lazarus, that point out spiritual dangers of ignoring the plight of the poor. Paul writes “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
I think it would be dangerous to dismiss these words of Scripture as merely lofty ideals by which we should strive and not challenges to our generosity in the here and now. Should the wealthy give to the poor? Absolutely.
But the issue at hand is how this applies to me. Should I give my wealth to the poor? And the answer is the same.
Now, you may say to yourself that you are not wealthy. But is this true?
In the eyes of many in the world, you may be wealthy. If you own a smartphone, you have more disposable income than millions. Heck, if you have eaten today, you are wealthier than so many of our brothers and sisters on the planet.
I am not saying this to make you feel guilty. My point is that each of us has the power to give more. All of us could be more generous, caring, compassionate, patient, honest, faithful, and loving. Are we living the way we are prescribing others to live?
None of us are perfect and we are all sinners who will fall short. Parents work hard at instilling virtues in their children that they themselves struggle with. We need to speak the truth of the moral life. But that word will have much greater effect if we use it on ourselves first.
I tell this story in the beginning not to point out the other person’s hypocrisy. I told it because it made me think of my own. I pointed out to her how she was not living the ideal while criticizing others. And yet I know the same is true for myself.