Define rich. This was a challenge posed to Obama and McCain during the recent interview with Rick Warren. They responded in light of tax purposes, speaking to the unspoken question – whose taxes will be raised?
But since this interview was posed by Christians, I would have liked him to pose this idea. Jesus cared for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and spoke frequently about wealth and poverty. In that light, how do we as Christians define rich?
A missionary friend who has traveled extensively in two-thirds world countries defines “rich” as:
- Having access to transportation. This means potential access to jobs, resources and opportunity. He didn’t mean owning or leasing transportation, but merely having the access to it. My husband and I have two cars that have well over 200,000 miles on them. (I confess, they are not very green.) It will be a long while before we can replace them. However they are in good shape and run well. And we have more than a few pennies for riding in a crowded chapa van in Mozambique or on a bench in the back of a truck in Thailand.
- The means to call 911 or some emergency help when in danger or sick. In too many places police forces are corrupt, severely under-trained, under-funded or ineffectual in stopping crimes committed against the people. Likewise the emergency medical services, if there is any.
- Any sense of having more than you need.
By these standards we are all fabulously wealthy in America. And I want to recognize that even in easier economic times, the lack of opportunity in the American inner city exposes the dichotomy of economic privilege that exists here.
So then we need to ask, how much is enough? We consume so much of the world’s resources. The problem of extreme poverty is on all of our hands. As Christians, we do need to take an ax to the root of economic injustice. But I also wonder during these difficult economic times, if we as Christians need to look closer to home as well. Should one neighbor buy a new boat as his neighbor’s house goes into foreclosure? Most of my friends have two cars as we do – should we each give one away? We believe God is the Giver of all good things, yet we seem to be stuck on believing that the things we have are really “mine”, because “I earned ’em”. We need an ongoing conversation about what it might truly mean to be our brothers’ keeper.
And we find our privilege eroded by Your purpose
Our competence shaken by Your future
Our entitlement shaken by Your other children
Give us grace to hear Your promises
Give us freedom to trust Your promises
Give us patience to wait and
Humility to yield our dreamed future
To Your large purpose.
We pray in the name of Jesus who
Is Your deep yes over our lives
Excerpt of poem is from Ourselves at the Center, from Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggeman.