(The Nationalist, 13 October 2006)
There’s a gospel story about a man who wanted to follow Jesus, but was held back by his love of wealth. It’s a sad story, perhaps the only one where a person refused a direct invitation from Jesus. The man in question wasn’t free: he didn’t possess his possessions; they possessed him. ‘He went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth’.
Jesus saw wealth as a threat to human well-being. That was in contrast to his time and its attitudes, and to ours, too. He saw that wealth easily becomes an obstacle between the wealthy and God, operating as an idol of self-interest, making absolute claims. Wealth also divides people, because it is held at the expense of the poor. It dehumanizes the rich, making it difficult for them to open themselves to God and neighbour.
Wealth, by definition, is an excess; it is not about needs, but about wants. Our language – in advertising, for instance – blurs the distinction between the two. If we have more than we need, or if we desire to, our possessions cease to be our servants and become our master, and we are driven to look for still more. The nature of greed is to be insatiable. It never says, ‘I have enough!’ Greed leads to loss of freedom, to worry about theft, security, keeping up appearances, being upmarket, etc. Then we are driven by forces outside of ourselves; we are no longer free. Sometimes we even sacrifice the quality of family life in the name of “an improved standard of living”. Or we may end up with a large burden of personal debt hanging over us, and that, too, makes us unfree.
Human solidarity and sharing is a necessity in our world. To a degree we have already learned that at the national level; we accept that social welfare spending should level out extremes. But we don’t accept that at the international level; we don’t accept that humanity is one family. There isn’t public support for such an idea, and, therefore, there isn’t the political will to do it. We need a globalization of solidarity.
Would there be a war in Iraq if there wasn’t oil there? Would there be the suffering in Darfur if the Sudanese government hadn’t signed a deal with China for oil? The refusal to share justly the wealth of the world leads to wars, and the evils they bring. A world where wealth is shared will be a safer world for all of us. ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him’ makes a better response to terror than a “war on terrorism”. We human beings need each other.
There is a challenge to us in that about priorities. A basic question is: do I want to live for myself or for others? An inward-looking, selfish, self-centred life is the ultimate foolishness, a wasted life. The only happy people are those who live for something other than themselves.