Rich and Poor

Posted on May 25, 2019


Rich and Poor

Kathleen Parker’s Op-ed Jan. 29 borrowed a few lines from literature to make her points. “Let them eat cake” was of course attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette of France when told the peasants were starving for lack of bread. The fact that there is absolutely no proof she ever made the statement doesn’t stop the current crop of political pundits—Parker included—from alluding to it as an example of the callousness of the nobility toward the starving peasants. So much for history.

Kathleen also has fun with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me,” to which, depending upon the story, Ernest Hemingway responded to in some of his writings, “yes they are Scott, they have more money.”

In other words, as summarized by Hemingway in his dry wit and drumming a bit on the socially conscious Fitzgerald, human values and sensitivities, let alone morality and Christian ethics I might add, don’t necessarily issue from the amount of money and/or wealth you have. People will behave like jerks or morons almost regardless of how much they have, maybe for how long they’ve had it (“old” money versus “new” money), or, conversely, how little they have.

Parker crafts her essay around the quote attributed to Antoinette as she addressed the callous, insensitive response of some of the Trump administration’s millionaires to the government shutdown and the need of many federal employees to line up for food handouts. They just don’t get it she claims, way too far removed from the working man in America, kind of like Marie Antoinette removed from the plight of the peasants, “let them eat cake.”

Let’s see if we elevate the subject a bit. Let’s in fact turn to a higher authority than politicians and pundits today. Let’s move it beyond capitalists, free marketeers, socialists, communists and progressives a bit. Let’s, in fact, turn to the truest source of wisdom and ethics and morality in the world and take a quick look at what it says about the wealthy and the poor and the obligations of each in our society and world.

Statistically, wealth and riches occupy a huge section of the Bible’s attention. The word “rich” alone produces 154 hits in the New International Version from Genesis to Revelations. The “poor” produces over 100, most likely because God had special advice and counsel for the rich.

Why should we even care about the poor, other than some compassion for those less fortunate than us? Perhaps the most famous case of the rich and poor is when Jesus was queried by the rich young ruler on what he must do to inherit eternal life. 

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Never one to miss a teaching opportunity, Jesus concluded for his disciples watching, “Jesus looked around and said …, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’”

Shocked, the disciples responded, “Who then be saved?”

And, Jesus, of course, had the answer and one of his greatest lessons. He “looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Luke 10:21-27)

The Old Testament prefigured much of what Jesus taught, which is a no-brainer to understand. Called Rabbi, or Teacher, by his disciples and followers, Jesus was steeped in Jewish knowledge and writings.

When Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me,” he was essentially paraphrasing Deuteronomy, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.”

And Moses, usually thought to be author of Deuteronomy, also used the simple facts of life to teach: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Matthew 26:11 and Deuteronomy 15:11)

Now, before I pass the plate for today’s reading, let me also suggest that there is another great lesson in Scripture, for rich and poor, expressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to new Christians at Thessalonika. “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling [but able we might add parenthetically] shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Published as “Our morals don’t issue from what we possess” Feb. 3, 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News.