Do you consider yourself rich?
Odds are your answer is no. And that’s not a surprise, really. If you live in America, you probably hear the word “rich” and think of someone like Bill Gates, whose net worth is 79.3 billion, or Oprah Winfrey, whose net worth is three billion. Compared to that amount of money, almost anyone seems poor.
It’s natural, then, that when we read about what the Bible has to say about wealth, we nod sympathetically. When Matthew 19:24 tells us the story of the rich young ruler and reminds us that it’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, we say, “That’s true, that’s true.” Rarely do we consider ourselves the rich man.
But the likelihood is that you do, indeed, qualify as “rich.”
On July 17 the Pew Research Center created a “global calculator” meant to compare the incomes and lifestyles of people around the world. What they found was this:
…if you’re making $50 or more a day, the global calculator counts you as “high income.” In fact, the majority of people living in developed countries will show up as “upper-middle income” or “high income.”
They also found that
…some people below the poverty line in this country could still be seen as middle class by much of the world’s standards. [And] 71 percent of the world’s population is still “poor” or “low income.”
I’m not trying to imply that some people in the United States aren’t struggling financially. Many are, and are in desperate need of help. And yet we have a tendency to underestimate our own wealth. An article about this phenomenon points out that often, high-income earners who break the six-figure barrier consider themselves (because of their standard of living) to be middle-class. And I’d be willing to wager that most of us probably assume we’re “poorer” than we are: cars and kids and ‘necessities’ drain away a lot of our salaries, sometimes leaving us to wonder where it all went.
The point here is that “wealth” is an elastic concept. What might not be much to us seems luxurious to a struggling person from a developing country; Bill Gates might scoff at six-figure earners. And so it’s dangerous to imagine that we are not the rich young ruler, that we do not have “great wealth.” Because a lot of us, relatively speaking, do.
It’s human nature to see ourselves in the “good guys” and to separate ourselves from the “bad guys.” When we think of the rich young ruler I’m sure all of us think of a rich person or a rich corporation we know. We think of people who waste money and people who cling too tightly to material possessions. We think, in short, of people we consider “above” us, without ever pausing to consider that we stand “above” others too.
Nobody wants to be Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly. And surely we all struggle in various ways. But it’s important to remember that however well-off we think are or aren’t, we have the potential to fall guilty to the foibles of much wealth: a dependence on the world and material comforts, selfishness, and greed. Rather than shake our heads at the rich young ruler and be thankful we aren’t him, may we shake our heads–and say a quick prayer that we don’t become him.