Rich Man, Poor Man History Lesson – And Oddly, in a weird way, A Christmas Story

Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”
But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”
So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”
He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”
Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned to death.”
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”

  • 1 Kings 21:1-19

What brought this writing to mind is that I awoke from a wonderful dream in the middle of the night, and here it is that I am writing about it before dawn, posted much later.

I awoke and I could not remember the details of the dream, only that “justice” had been served and I led my family to the promise of the great American Dream.

When I awoke, I cried out, “God, please, let me return to the dream.  For once, there was justice.”

God replied, “That dream is not for you in this life.  You are in a long line of dreamers.  You shall live the life you are meant to live and return to Me to be with those who have dreamed before you.”

As I tossed and turned, trying to go to sleep again, I thought of various generations, and how they were denied their “dream.”  Many more, or only a few if Jesus returns soon, will repeat the “dream,” few, if any, will find it.  I have been dealt justice in this world on the rich man’s terms.

Naboth had a vineyard.  He may have dreamed, but the Bible does not record the dream.  He must have been a masterful vintner.  His vineyard produced an abundance of fruit.  There was so much fruit on the vine that King Ahab coveted the land.  He was king.  Naboth was a poor farmer.  The abundance was from the land, for a king could not imagine that the abundance was due to the intelligence of Naboth.  Naboth was poor!!  If he had intelligence, Naboth would be king!!!!  This is justice on the rich man’s terms.

And so that story has been repeated, in full and in part, for thousands of years since Jezebel had Naboth killed so that her husband could grow a few veggies on Naboth’s land.  That is the justice of this world, the justice that counts.  After all, the one that wins is the one who dies with the most toys.  The bumper sticker justice reigns supreme.

The post title borrows the title of a 1969 novel by Irwin Shaw.  The novel was followed in 1976 by something that no one knew existed, maybe was invented for the occasion, a television miniseries.  The mini-series, Rich Man, Poor Man won four Emmy awards and was nominated for just about everything it qualified for nomination.  It made stars of many of the actors.  And the concept of television mini-series became a fad, exploding on every network.

But I thought of an old Jerry Clower story that I was convinced that I have written about before.  I just cannot find it.  The following is my version of “The Two Mules.”  It speaks of the Rich Man, Poor Man concept, and the dream of how justice ought to be.

There was a rich man and a poor man who lived next to each other in Amite County, Mississippi.  The rich man coveted the poor man’s land.  It was a small spot of land, as an Irish ballad (or lament) might say, but the poor man’s land seemed more fertile.  If the rich man owned it, his wealth would grow tremendously.
One year, the poor man’s mule died.  He had the best crop he ever had, but he had no mule in which to gather the crop.  Without a crop, he would lose his farm.  But the rich man next door had two mules.  The mules grazed in the field next to the poor man’s property.  They had never worked a day in their lives.  They were part of the rich man’s excess.  The poor man asked the rich man if he could borrow the mules.  The rich man laughed.  He drooled.  This was his chance to take the poor man’s land from him.  He refused.
In bitterness, the poor man returned to his home.  All was lost, but he saw the two mules grazing near his property.  He thought that if he borrowed the mules, he could bring in a crop and save his farm.
When the rich man drove by and saw that the poor man’s crop had been harvested for market and his two mules were on the poor man’s property, he had the poor man arrested for stealing his mules.  In the trial, the poor man faced a jury of his peers – not the rich man’s peers, but the poor man’s peers.
The jury deliberated and came to a verdict.  The judge asked what the verdict was.  The jury stated, “We find the defendant not guilty, but he’s got to give the rich man his mules back.”
The judge jumped from his bench and shouted at the jury, “That is the worst miscarriage of justice that I have ever heard!!!  Go back and deliberate again and do not come back here to this court until you have a verdict that MAKES SENSE!!”
Ten minutes later, the jury returned with a new verdict. “Judge, we find the defendant not guilty, and he DON’T have to give the man his mules back!”

That is every Naboth’s dream.  The poor man would have returned the mules, if the rich man had given him half a chance.  The poor man only wished to do as he had always done, to eke by.

God said that I was in a long line of dreamers, dreamers who were not destined to have their dream fulfilled.  I stared at the ceiling of the dark bedroom.  The lights on the fan’s controls were the only light in the room.  As the fan oscillated, the faint blue lights danced on the ceiling.  I thought of some poor men who were dreamers, who never saw their dream in this life.  Let’s have a little true history rather than what the Woke folks are saying:

1850, northern Mississippi:  A poor man has more than a dozen children.  He has to have that many in order to have enough people to work the land, just a little spot of land.  Does he own any slaves?  Yes, he does, but only a man and his wife.  He did not like the idea, but it was the way of the land.  He turned in his Bible and read everything that a master was to do.  He treated the man and his wife as family members, and the two people of darker skin produced children that also helped in bringing in a crop on the little spot of land.  They all worked side-by-side.  The rich man’s slaves in the field next to them called the poor man and his family, “Poor White Trash,” too poor to rest on the front porch while the slaves did the farming.  The poor man had intelligence, but only a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

1875, northern Mississippi: A war has ripped through the land.  Carpet baggers from up north have taken over.  They promised the black people that they would take care of them, but the promises were lies.  The Carpet baggers oppressed them.  The Carpet baggers refused to allow the white landowners any grain to plant a crop.  The poor people banded together and sent an expedition to the west to find grain, far enough west to be outside the Carpet Baggers’ control.  Of the expedition, some were killed by the Carpet baggers and others were killed by the Native Americans along the way, but two poor men returned and divided the grain among all the families who had sent people on the journey.  They brought in a crop and all the families saved their farms and their lives and eked out a living.  The term “Poor White Trash” changed.  It referred to the poor man who was poor in character and visited the black community to sleep with the women there, later changed to any white man of poor character.  But the poor men who risked their lives to simply get seed to plant a crop had good character.  They eked out a living.  The poor man had intelligence, but only a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

1900, northern Mississippi: One of those poor men who had travelled west to get seed spent the rest of his life looking for his black brother, who had been chased by Yankee raiders.  He loved his black brother, but he never learned if he was still alive.  But the poor man, a farmer, a teacher, and a circuit riding preacher, eked out a living.  The poor man had intelligence, but only a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

1925, northern Mississippi: Another war has come and gone.  The poor man did not fight in it.  He had lost a couple of fingers in a farming accident.  He was not eligible for military service.  His wife was a school marm in a one room schoolhouse.  She saw the need and asked another mother to help her, and they did the best they could.  The poor man had a spot of land.  He eked out a living, but soon the Depression would rob him of his dream.  He would spend his days working hard and his nights studying and memorizing the Bible, wondering if any of the promises were for this life or the next.  The poor man eked out a living.  The poor man had intelligence, but only a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

1950, northern Mississippi: Another war has come and gone, and another is raging.  The poor man used the GI bill to get a low interest loan to start a bigger farm, but then he was called to duty to teach other poor farmers how to be soldiers, specifically artillery in the Army.  He served in South Carolina as an artillery teacher.  He would soon get out of the Army and return to Mississippi and build the farm into an empire, but then the US government will change regulations.  He had to move his operations into town.  Then the regulations changed again, and he borrowed more money to move into the big town.  The perfect spot, just a little spot of land, to build a poultry processing plant was up for sale – a sealed bid going to the highest offer.  The poor man bid as much as he could afford, basically throwing all his available cash into the bid, ruining his farm if he lost.  The rich man, who won the bid, simply bid “one dollar more than the highest bid.”  The poor man lost everything, including the little spot of land that he started with.  He would, many years later, work for the rich man, earning a little money and buying a tiny piece of his original land back.  The poor man eked out a living.  The poor man had intelligence, but only a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

1980, South Carolina (sorry, that it was not 25 year later): Another war has come and gone.  A poor man buys a house that he cannot afford.  He works at a government nuclear facility.  Old Korean War veterans, probably not taught by any old poor man from Mississippi but of the same mindset, looked upon this poor man, originally from Mississippi, as a young rising star.  He was intelligent.  He had drive.  He had ambition.  And, maybe most importantly, he was a man of good character, a leader among men.  Just as had happened in the other generations, the rich man saw the combination of intelligence, drive, ambition, leadership and hard work as being a danger to the good thing that the rich man possessed.  The poor man became the scapegoat for every disastrous idea that the rich men caused themselves.  The poor man eked out a living.  The poor man had intelligence, and he was left without a little spot of land.  The poor man had a dream.  The poor man had the drive to do the work.  The poor man never saw that dream come true.

Do not get me wrong.  Some poor people, you read about them all the time, sneak by the defenses of the rich people and become rich themselves, regardless of color.  When I moved to the South Side of Pittsburgh (really even further out into a coal mining town, but working near the South Side), I was told that the old rich were in Mount Lebanon and Castle Shannon, PA while the new rich, the place to be if you could afford it, was Upper St. Clair, PA, just to the south of Mount Lebanon or Peters Township if you could not afford Upper St. Clair, further to the south.  We could afford none of that, renting a house ten miles away, ten miles of farmland away.

The rich people do not have as much drive as the poor people.  Their only motivation is to make more.  At some point, they realize “why bother?”  They do not have any “dream” because they live the life that the poor man dreams of.

But does the dream ever come true?

Yes, a thousand times yes.  The poor man, at some point in his life, and maybe for me in part tonight (oh, the sun is starting to appear, so maybe morning … now) for this poor man…  The poor man’s dream is not in treasures that rust and moth can destroy, but in the character of the soul, that character that drove a past generation, depressed by the Depression, to seek answers in the only book where true answers can be found, the Bible.  We must hold our head high.  For we have fought the good fight.

Someday, I will meet those poor men that I have written about here in this history lesson.  We will all be rich beyond our wildest imagination as we give each other a knowing embrace.  The rich man sought our destruction for being ambitious and intelligent and the threat to their wealth, but all we sought in the end was to be more like Jesus.

For those looking for a Christmas story, this IS a Christmas Story, in a way.  I prayed yesterday, the day before writing this, for a wonderful Christmas Eve story.  My mind was a total blank.  And then, in the middle of the night, this is what God gave me in a dream, of which I remember no details other than a dream of justice, justice that I shall never see in this lifetime.

Mary was betrothed to Joseph.  Joseph was a poor carpenter (or a general builder as some think it should be said – I worked in Germany with a bunch of carpenters who only nailed concrete forms together and grouted walls, so I understand the building style of the day might not lead to much carpentry).  Joseph eked out a living.  He may or may not have had a spot of land.  He had ambition.  He worked hard.  Then Mary became pregnant, and Joseph learned – in a dream, maybe in the middle of the night – to accept the child as his own.  From that moment on Joseph’s dream became a different dream.  Joseph never saw Joseph’s dream come true.  Joseph never saw the dream given to him by the angel ever come true either.  Joseph simply did what God asked him to do.  Work hard and eke out a living so that Mary and the Christ child could grow up safe and healthy.

Maybe not the Christmas story you were expecting, nor what I was trying to come up with, but it is what came to me in a dream in the middle of the night.

And all I can say is, “Praise the Lord.  Thank you for such a wonderful story, a true story that is still being written.”

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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