Monday, June 8, 2015

To Whom Much Is Given…

We hear a lot these days about the “1 percenters,” individuals and families that purportedly earn and possess wealth in amounts greater than 99 percent of the rest of the population. Without intending to get into a political discourse on this topic, I couldn’t help but wonder – just who are these “one percent”? What are the qualifications for entering such an exclusive, elite assembly of affluence?

These questions are relevant because chances are you and I don’t belong in this group. Instead, we’re firmly entrenched somewhere in “the lower 99 percent.”

These ancient coins are similar to those used by the
woman giving the so-called "widow's mite." She also
was a member of the "one percent" - but in her case,
the bottom one percent.
According to various descriptions, the one percent consist of people with median annual household incomes of $750,000, and median assets of $7.5 million. There are an estimated 1.2 million of them across the country. So, do you qualify? Are you ready to apply for your “one percent” ID card? I’m certain in this case membership does have its privileges.

Before proceeding to my main point, I have one observation: When we hear pundits in the national media and outspoken politicians railing against the "one percent," as well as noted entertainers and even some pro athletes, it’s helpful to realize most of them are well-established members of the "one percent" themselves.

Top news anchors, happy-faced hosts of network morning news shows, nighttime talk show stars – and even many leading national politicians on both sides of the aisle – have amassed net worths into the seven and eight figures, and in some cases, well beyond that. You know the stars from TV and the movies we enjoy so much, strolling those red carpets? Yup, many of them are “closet one-percenters.” So when we hear high-sounding criticisms of the up-and-outers, consider the sources.

But as I’ve already stated, most of us don’t dwell in the highest realms of personal finances – and never expect to be. So does that authorize us to look down (or perhaps, up) our noses in disdain, condemning the rich and famous for their greed and seemingly selfish, lofty lifestyles?

It’s true that Jesus told His followers, From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more(Luke 12:48). But just as we may ponder what comprises “one percent” status, exactly how do we define “much”?

Years ago Ronald Blue, financial advisor to many wealthy people, recalled a comment by a world-renowned affluent industrialist who was asked, “How much is enough?” The business magnate without a blink or hesitation replied, “Just a little bit more.” So it seems that regardless of how vastly resourced one might be, “much” can be seen as just a bit more than what you’ve got.

We can mutter and complain about the one percent that we perceive as accumulating too much at the expense of others. But as Jesus told one of His disciples in an admittedly different context, “…what is that to you? You must follow Me” (John 21:22).

While we may point to the seeming injustice, we’re not responsible for how others use or misuse their resources. But we are fully responsible for the resources God has seen fit to give to us. In fact, He’s telling us that if we’d like to have more to share with others, it would be best to start by being generous in sharing from what we already have.

Speaking of our responsibilities before God as stewards of what He provides, Jesus said, He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). As I’ve pondered this statement, Jesus seems to be assuring us that if we’re faithful to properly use what He’s entrusted to us, we can expect to be entrusted with more – to use in a similar manner. At the same time, He’s also saying if we’re not faithful in the use of what He’s given, why should we expect to receive more?

Another time Jesus observed a poor woman in an act that’s served as a glowing example of selfless generosity. “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow putting in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ 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).

Sure, we can all look at others and conclude, “They could be doing more.” Maybe a lot more. But the question confronting us is not how much others are giving. The question is, how much are we giving? What are we doing to enhance the well-being of others, whether in terms of money, time, or the unique gifts and talents God has entrusted to us?

Hopefully the wildly affluent – those inhabiting the select one-percent income class – will determine to give more freely to help others, especially those saddled with heavy economic burdens they can’t seem to escape. Ideally, without the force of government legislation. In the meantime, we’d each be wise to honestly assess what we’re doing to assist others.

It could involve giving more to worthwhile charitable causes. It might mean finding someone in your church or your neighborhood that could use some kind of help. Or it may just mean giving an extra big tip for the hard-working server at the restaurant, rather than settling for the bare minimum. If we all willingly did our part, who knows how many millions could benefit – even if the “one percent” chose to do nothing more than they’re doing right now?

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