Sometimes I get frustrated with the culture of envy. Even among people of faith it has become fashionable to comment if not harp on disparities in wealth in America. Why do the poor have so little and the wealthy so much? Shouldn’t something be done about that? (Or perhaps even worse, shouldn’t the government do something about it?) There are ways of making jealousy and envy look righteous, when really, in our deepest of hearts our problem lies more with what we don’t have than what others don’t have. Yes, we care about the poor, but in our human frailty, we also wish for certain things for ourselves. It may be the dream of American affluence with multiple vehicles, big house and large disposable income. Or it may be the desire to own land, live on it and from it, and raise a family on your own terms. Whatever our dreams are it’s hard to look at someone else who seems to have what we want without feeling a twinge of envy.
It’s easy to look at those who have more than you and categorize them as wealthy or too wealthy. But for every person who has more than we do, there are many more that have less. My father is quick to remind me that most Haitians would find Americans living in poverty to be living lives of luxury by comparison. Lives some Haitians would envy.
So maybe when we sit around getting on our high horses about how some people have too much we’ve missed the point. It isn’t about what others have or what they do with it (which is something we mostly don’t know and is none of our business anyway), it’s about what we do with what we have. I’ve known people of wealth in my life and people with nothing, or next to nothing. But in either case I witnessed great generosity. I don’t know why God has blessed me with what I have, but I know that with it comes great responsibility. Whether I have little or much, it is all for the kingdom.
By American standards it feels like I have little. When I see a need it is easy to automatically say, “There’s nothing I can do about that. That will have to be someone else’s problem, someone wealthier, smarter, more well connected, etc.” or “I can’t possibly help. I can barely take care of myself and my family.” Our pastor gave a sermon a while back about Elisha and the widow. She came to him saying that her sons were going to be sold into slavery to pay her husband’s debts. Elisha asked her what she had in her house. She said, “I have nothing. I have a small jar of oil.” That small jar of oil was supernaturally multiplied and filled every jar she could borrow. She sold it to pay her debts and redeem her sons. (I’ve always wondered, what if her friends hadn’t loaned her the jars?) Our pastor encouraged us to look for the resources in our own lives, even when we think we have nothing, and ask God what he would have us do with them. I need to say to God, “God I feel like I have nothing. Show me what I have and what I can do with it.” As we head into a season of consumption on the heels of what is supposed to be a day of gratitude, I’m going to try to keep reminding myself, “Don’t concern yourself with what others have that you don’t. Whatever you do have, whether it be little or much, is all from God and all for the kingdom.”