The Economic Distance Between Us

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Two men were riding a bicycle built for two and they came to a big steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top the man in front turned to the other and said, “Boy, that sure was a hard climb.” The fellow in back replied, “Yes, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way we would certainly have rolled down backwards.”

Economic justice does not come easy. Life is not fair, it has never been fair, and I doubt if it will ever in our lifetime be completely fair. We live in a free market economy where people are rewarded for creativity and hard work. We live in a society were the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer and the middle class is disappearing.

In the early 1830’s, a member of French nobility visiting America, Alexis de Tocqueville, noted that a major characteristic of this young nation was the pervasive sense of equality. He said that nothing so struck him as the “general equality of condition among American people.” With few who were very rich, and few who were terribly poor, de Tocqueville felt that this was fertile soil for the development of true democracy.

Somewhere between there and now we have changed. Today, perhaps the most noticeable aspect of American economics and perhaps the most dangerous aspect of American politics is the growing gap between rich and poor. During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s society pushed economic development, educational opportunities and government programs. Programs like social security, veterans housing and the civil rights, etc. It wasn’t a perfect plan, it had flaws and needed changes. But it all contributed to economic equality. In the 80’s and 90’s we changed everything, we thought for the better. But it built an economic growth that benefited the wealthiest Americans and hurt the poorest. Today the gap between the poorest Americans and the wealthiest is larger than at any point in the last 50 years. The richest 1 percent of us have nearly as much wealth as the entire bottom 95 percent.

Douglas Oldenburg of Columbia Theological Seminary points out that in the 1970’s the gap between executive officers and workers was 41 to 1. Today that gap is 225 to 1. The average married couples wages (after taxes and inflation) the 80’s and 90’s increased only 9 percent. During the 60’s and 70’s it increased 83%.

We have been told repeatedly that prosperity at the top means prosperity for those on the bottom. It is now time for the bottom to start receiving benefit!

Jesus one day tells an unnerving story. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. There is a helplessness and a hopelessness about Lazarus! “The time came when both men died. Lazarus went to Heaven. One of the benefits of being poor is that we need God. Few things stand in our way of God. The rich man went to Hell. It is not that he was rich that put him into Hell. Jesus said to the Rich Young Ruler, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.” From Hell the rich man said, “have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

At the beginning of this parable we see our world, the world where there is a great chasm fixed between the rich and the poor. By the end of the parable we see God’s world, the world as God intends it. Now, there is another gap, but it is now a gap fixed by the judgements of God.

What is the long and short of this message. It sort of reminds me of the man who was preaching and at the conclusion of his sermon he said, “To make a long story short….” Someone from the congregation yelled, “Too late!” There is nothing wrong with a free market economy, however, with freedom comes responsibility.
Luke 12:48 From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. To hold eight billion dollars and not do great things to improve the lives of poor people is not acceptable.

There is a moral obligation for the wealthier person to try to improve the lives of those who have not been nearly as blessed. Gen 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” You better well believe that you are your brother’s keeper.

Herod the Great, ruler of Jerusalem, did a lot of shady things in his life. However, one of the things he did was to take the great stores of wealth that were in the Temple and built an aqueduct to Jerusalem. The city didn’t have any fresh water and didn’t want to pay high taxes. The rich could have water carried in, but the poor couldn’t afford it. He took the money from the Temple because it wasn’t needed or being used.

Matt 6:24″No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. If God is generous and you have prospered it becomes your responsibility to share and improve the lives of others.

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