We Are All Rich
We Are All Rich (11-26-2017)
Some of us are old enough to remember a man named Robin Leech, who with his distinctive British accent, narrated the once popular television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Many of us watched to see how “the other half” lived. Today we have similarly premised shows but with a different format called “reality tv.” “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” “Million Dollar Listing,” and their numerous variations depending on geographic location are a few examples. We Americans, and probably many societies before us have a fascination with wealth. Perhaps we have even taken a drive in our car to see the mansions of Kenwood, Edina, Minnetonka, or even our parish’s own street of Summit Avenue here in Saint Paul.
Even the Gospel readings of the Orthodox Church during this time of year seem to focus on wealth. Last week we heard the Parable of the Rich Fool (9th Sun. Luke). Today we just heard about the interaction between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (13th Sun. Luke). In a few weeks we will hear about the Parable of the Great Banquet.
However, this borderline obsession with wealth and celebrity blinds us to the fact that many more people live below us than above us. Partly because our attention is often directed towards the wealthy and relatedly because, as we compare ourselves to the super-rich, we think of ourselves as having very little. Hopefully, the Thanksgiving holiday has given us pause to reflect on how materially wealthy we really are.
If we look at averages just in the United States, here is how our wealth compares. The median household income in the Twin Cities is approximately $70,000 per year, which by the way ranks at number ten (10) of all cities in US. If you make $70K you are at the 77th percentile, which means that you make more than 77% of the rest of the population. If you make $100,000 then you jump to the 88th percentile. If you make $150,000 per year, you jump to the 95th percentile.
What if we compare the United States to the world? The average household income for the US is $57,294. That ranks us number eight (8) in the world among 195 countries. The average household among all inhabitants of the world is $9,733. So, I know each families situation is unique but generally speaking we are very blessed here in the United States and especially here in the Twin Cities.
And that helps us understand better the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 18:18-27) when He says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! (v.24) For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25). This, of course, was the response to the question of the rich young ruler who initially asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.18). Our Lord told him first to fulfill the Ten Commandments (v.20). The rich young ruler told Jesus he had kept them from a young age (v.21). When Jesus heard that answer, He told the young man, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (v.22).
My brothers and sisters, almost all of us fall into the category of rich. Therefore, to inherit eternal life, we must follow the ethical commandments given by God to rightly order our relationship with ourselves and each other. In addition, a correct relationship with God and our neighbor involves a correct relationship with our income and wealth. Perhaps we are thinking how can I do this? How can I have a correct relationship with my income and wealth?
The Church has given us an antidote to the poison of greed and avarice. It’s called tithes and offerings. We are called to give a tithe or ten percent (10%) of our gross income to the local parish church. That’s one penny of a dime, one dime of a dollar, and one dollar for every ten. Offerings are what we give above and beyond the tithe for special projects and needs, disaster relief being a common example. When we give ten percent to God through the Church, we begin to rightly order wealth in our life. We begin to experience the joy of giving. And tithing is a fair system because it is premised on proportional giving. If one makes more money, then they should give more money.
If each one of us takes a serious look at what we are actually giving in stewardship to the Church and compare that to the biblical command of tithing, we might be like those who heard Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. They asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” Their premise is that no one can fulfill Jesus’ teaching. We will all be strained out of heaven because we cannot fit through the eye of needle (v.25). Our Lord answered the question by saying, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (v.26). In other words, tithing, selling all, giving to the poor, having treasure in heaven, following Christ, and inheriting eternal life can only be attained through total faith in God. These things are only possible if we give up our trust in our wealth and put our trust in God. Amen!