As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
– Luke 21:1-4
My wife had a discussion with someone some time ago. The other person said something that we have heard for many, many years, although the dollar figure changes a little. “If you make $36,000 per year, you are in the top one percent of wage earners in the world.” In other words, you are not just rich, you are ultra-rich. Of course, this is the springboard that they use to tell us everything that we are doing wrong.
My wife was unsure of its validity of this person’s springboard, so I looked it up. The other person was off, a little. The present number is $32,400 per year. It was calculated in Europe and based on the Euro, so this number may vary with changes in the exchange rate.
My wife’s counter to the argument was that this is a case of apples and oranges. We may make $36,000 per year, but we live in the USA. What about the people in India that make one dollar per day. They are poor, but they can feed their family with some left over. In the US, a family of five, going to a fast food restaurant and ordering from the dollar menu (assuming no sales tax), can eat one single meal of drink, simple burger, and small fries for each after more than two weeks of India wages, assuming that they work seven days per week. Yes, in India, they don’t eat at such expensive places and their portion size is much, much smaller, but they get by and they have a roof over their heads (possibly made of canvas or thatch) and they have clothing to wear. All of that on a dollar per day. Of course, the wife can work also for 80 cents per day. I saw seven-year-old babysitters that worked hard so that both parents could collect pay each day.
The sad thing is that my wife felt guilty for having taken the bait for the subsequent argument, and she worried that she hurt the other person’s feelings. Is the following a bit of a rant? Some may say so, but my wife has enough on her plate. She doesn’t need to justify our beliefs and lifestyle to those who have wealth and love to rub it in our faces. He who dies with the most toys does not win. They lose. They lose the ability to totally trust in God for their daily provision.
Why is there so much snobbery in the churches today concerning what everyone else earns? Making the argument that people in the poverty level in the US are in the top 2% of world-wide wage earners is insulting. It’s as if we are saying, “You are complaining too much. There are opportunities. Get a second job. I won’t help the poor until the poor help themselves!” Ah, that is where this is going. Either the government feeds the poor or the poor pick themselves up by their boot straps. I heard a speaker yesterday say that what you’ll get when you do that is broken boot straps.
When you are in the top half of US wage earners, you can’t complain. Everyone else, maybe making less, has two cars parked at their house to your one. They have lavished vacations on the beach at a rented house. Instead of the beach, you go to the library to read a book. You don’t complain that your pennies don’t stretch as far as theirs do. You don’t really notice, until they bring it up. You don’t complain. You just state the fact, “No, I stayed home and read a book instead of going to St. Kitts for my vacation.” They turn this statement of fact into a complaint, and now you are the complaining Christian. Where is your eternal Joy? Where is your gratitude? Why aren’t you giving much more than a tithe to the church? After all, you make more than 99% of the rest of the world. (Time out, here. Where did any of this come from? I stayed home and read a book. How did that become an attack of my beliefs?)
You were just stating a fact. You said nothing about being a Christian, or tithing, or any of that other stuff. It was perceived as a complaint for if they had not had enough money for a vacation, they would complain… (Which you didn’t mention as your reason for staying home. They assumed. Anything to put you down and lift themselves up.) The point is that your fact turned into perceived whining, which they turned into a persecution of you and your beliefs. Can anyone with a scintilla of knowledge about Logic find the error in their argument? There are multiple leaps from one point to the next without substantiating facts and nothing to connect the dots.
They might argue with the low pay of workers in India. They might say, “Okay, you mentioned the working class in India. What of the professional?” My first lecture series that I taught to people from India was at our offices in the US. They saw that I owned a car. Okay, I owed a lot of money to the bank for the car, but I was paying off the payments. I had eleven engineers as students in the classroom. None of them, not even the supervisor, owned a car. His manager, after many years of saving, had recently bought a car upon his latest promotion, but it was smaller than my intermediate sedan. How did they get to work? They took a two-hour bus ride each way. They worked a twelve-hour day. If you are good at math, they had only eight hours left of their day at home, but they had to sleep, shower, eat two meals, get dressed, and walk to and from the bus stop. Oh, I forgot about helping their children with their homework, so their children could enjoy such privileges of a good education. Some of the engineers admitted that they tried to sleep while standing in the over-crowded buses. Yes, they gave up their seats to the elderly and women, and they stood for two hours each way.
Did I complain to these Indian engineers that I was the only person at the company, including the clerical people, that only had one car? When my wife needed the car, she had to drive me to work and pick me up later? Not on your life. I silently prayed that they could do as their boss’ boss had done, and save enough for a car over two-thirds of their working careers. A simple, but pragmatic prayer. But the deal is that these engineers made over twenty times what the worker class was paid. And this, after many years of school. There is not that kind of disparity in the US to encourage higher education.
Yes, it is like comparing apples and oranges, but if that poor person in the US loves like Jesus, they are going to share their ‘wealth’ with others. They are going to share sacrificially, while the person with the 1% argument is shaming them into giving even more. Does the person with the 1% argument give more? Give as much? Give at all?
That’s not for me to ask or to think about. God will sort that out.
We give what we can. Sometimes we give away what we need to live on.
But that is ridiculous. You shouldn’t bring financial destruction on yourself. “That isn’t being a good steward of what God gave you.” Time out! Do not use that argument, when Jesus honored the poor widow who gave it all. Jesus honored her, because she had faith that God will provide. The rich only gave a fraction of their excess.
Some people have nothing in savings because they help others instead, some due to riotous living, some due to bad circumstance, and some due to bad investments. All become judgment fodder for those with the 1% argument. Yet, God doesn’t look at that. He looks at our hearts and what we are willing to do for those less fortunate. And He looks at us when we put the blinders on, when we don’t look to the left or to the right to compare ourselves with others. He looks at us when we stretch out our hands in praise and truly thank Him for what we have, both physically in things and spiritually in blessings.
For all of you rich folks out there, you’ve been given more, and more is required of you. But, please, keep your 1% comments to yourself. If this were a contest, you’ve won. I will accept defeat, but that would only be another fact if I was competing against you.
I am not competing against you; I am in a race of my own. I am going to give that race my all. For at the finish line, Jesus is waiting with His arms outstretched. And I’m going to win that race.
You can win that race too, if you turn your life over to Him.