Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. - Matthew 19:24 ESV
I am a rich man. It is not a boast, it is something I only came to understand by sharing in the lives of others who actually suffer true poverty. I am healthy (mostly), self-sufficient, have regular income, a safe place to live, and a variety of luxuries I indulge in from time to time such as good tea, coffee, and the occasional bourbon. If that doesn't sound rich to you, then you need to read this article.
It Doesn't Start with Money
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. - 1 Timothy 6:10 ESV
Very few, if any, people start with a love of money itself. Our self-made prisons are built out of a desire for status, respect, and a sense of control over our lives. It just so happens that Jesus's life with us started just as we learned to consolidate all those things into currency. As such, we grow up in a world that teaches us to seek money as a means to gain power over our lives, and even over others.
It Doesn't End with Money
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? - Mark 8:36 ESV
Many of us have experienced the satisfying rush of our first paycheck, a thrill quickly extinguished by our first rent or car payment. Even for those who have enough money to not worry about the essentials, or even luxuries, of life, it is not enough to guarantee status, respect, and control. For every dollar gained, another must be spent to maintain status and fend off challengers.
The grass is always greener: Your neighbor's house is always bigger. You park next to a fancier car. Even among the most wealthy and decadent circles, everything is a constant competition to one-up, out-spend, or out-style someone else. This struggle creates a never-ending sense of insufficiency, and while you may be on the top of the world, you are only looking up at the next peak.
Our Collective Misery
We often think of greed as an individual vice. In reality, it is a collective one. American culture has made greed a virtue and has entangled wealth with character. We do not respect each other’s thoughts or ideas, we only look to those who glimmer and carry the affectation of our dreams and desires to ask, "What should we do?"
Our cultural disease means that humble living is no longer an option. When everyone over-works to break even, then you must over-work too, or not break even. When everyone spends a little beyond their means to keep up, then you must as well or risk the appearance of failure. It is a situation once so aptly summarized by 50 Cent, "Get rich or die trying."
The Meat Grinder
Collective greed is just the beginning, it gets worse. Today, living humbly is a health risk. Last year, Reuters found over 3,810 cities in the U.S. with lead levels in their water, many even greater than Flint, Michigan. One simply has to leave the suburbs to see that, in the absence of extreme wealth, basic utilities, infrastructure, and public services are nearly abandoned to the point of negligence.
Even without greed, otherwise well-meaning families stretch their wallets to the limits to make sure their kids can walk to school without fear or sleep at night without hearing gun shots. The cost of this kind of basic living is going up, and the choice to live humbly is more of a risk than ever. Even the rich, who seem immune to such issues, know that they are one slip-up away from falling off the bleachers and into the gladiatorial waste-land below.
How Do We Change?
The greatest poverty of modern America is that those of us who are rich think we are poor. If you feel like you are running on this treadmill, chances are, you are rich. Most people don't even have the opportunity to get on. For many who are disabled, lack social networks, are care-givers, or were thrown off by tragedy, entering the race is not an option.
Getting out of this madness requires sacrifice. Choosing to be a parent who spends time with their family can also mean teaching your family to live with less. Having time to spend in your community can mean giving up status among your peers. Ending the day without feeling like every piece of you was spend on the pursuit of a little more, can mean letting go of your expectations on life.
Most of all, we have work to change our vision of "success" from reaching the "top of the mountain" to lifting up those around us.
Seeking the Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is most invisible in ranks of wealth. Just think, Jesus defined wealth as "having two shirts" (Luke 3:11). Whatever you think it means to be wealthy, I am sure it is a long way away from that. As long as we fear what people think about us, or worry about what tomorrow will bring, we will be trapped into slavery. To experience community the way the Gospel teaches it to us, we have to see people, and ourselves, without status.