The Sickness of Wealth
Updated: Jan 15, 2019
Once while I was walking through downtown Kansas City with a couple of friends, a man experiencing homelessness approached us on the corner. Naturally, he asked for money, and rather than acknowledge his existence, the friends I was with (who made well over $100 thousand a year, by the way) ignored him and kept on walking. I stopped and gave the man the last five dollars I had in my wallet and caught up with my friends.
One of them asked me, “Why did you do that? He’s probably just going to buy drugs with it and overdose later.”
“Seriously? What dangerous drugs could a person possibly buy with five bucks?” I asked. “Plus, is it a gift if I decide how it’s spent?”
I share this story not because I am some sort of hero in an urban drama, but because of how profoundly the experience impacted me. Here I was making less than half the salary of my counterparts, and yet they couldn’t bring themselves to share their wealth... even just a few bucks. In fact, we continued to argue for the next hour about what was the appropriate amount to give to the poor before we start “enabling” them.
The reality was the homeless man didn’t have a money problem—my friends did—because wealth is a sickness, a never-ending pit for hoarding emptiness.
Wealth is the number one thing celebrated in every culture in the world. Can you name one country or society, where wealth—that is, the excess of resources—is looked down upon or disliked by its people?
No, you can’t, because we do the opposite: we worship and idealize those who are wealthy.
Even though it is proven that a person's happiness begins to decrease once they start making over $80 thousand a year, it doesn't change the fact that the "pursuit of happiness" has become equated with accumulating the wealth of "things" in life, especially in Western culture.
Some would say wealth, much like power, is not evil in and of itself, unless it is abused. So one can have as much wealth as you want, so long as you use it for good and not for evil. Some “Christians” take it a step further and preach the "wealth and prosperity" gospel, which basically teaches that God's favor is on those who accumulate riches to do good.
I would say those folks are full of shit.
While there are plenty of millionaires/billionaires who do good with their wealth, it is proven that 82% of the world's generated wealth went to the top 1% just last year. Sure, if we gave that money to Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, we could rest easy knowing that it was being put to good use. Why? Because they would have spent every penny on those in need. Sadly, we know the 1% do not share those same values.
Why do you think Christ talked more about money and the sin of greed than he did about prayer, or heaven, or any other issue?
It's because he knew the excess of money/wealth corrupted people—no matter the amount.
Christ instead calls us to a life of simplicity, where if our daily needs are meant, that is suppose to be enough. Any excess we have, we are meant to share with others. One could even interpret more drastic measures from scripture. Oftentimes, Christ tells us to sell all of our possessions and follow him (Matthew 19:20), or he tells us not to worry about the food we will eat or the clothes we will wear, because if God can take care of the birds, then he can take care of us (Matthew 6:26-31).
Ultimately, Christ gave us a framework for living a counter-cultural way of life: by sharing all things in community. If we did community correctly, then there would be no lack among us.
My challenge to you fellow Fence Traveler is this: stop pursing the false happiness of wealth and start start pursuing the third way of radically giving your excess to others. A life of Christ-like generosity may just open your eyes to the wealth of people and the riches of breaking bread with one another.