February 11, 1997
In 1990, one statistic says ninety million humans survived the year on less than $88 dollars each. What a gigantic contrast to the annual earnings of Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft Corp. TIME magazine reports that in 1996, he grossed about $30 million a day.
One day of Gates’ earnings would provide 300,000 people with $100 a year. If his total annual earnings were given to those ninety million people in the $88 bracket, it would more than double their income. For those who have difficulty with big numbers, Gate’s profits for one day would provide about 660 people with a yearly wage of $45,000. His profits for one year would pay this average wage to over 243,000 people.
Many people applaud Bill Gates. To them, he is the epitome of the American dream, a rare but possible combination of brains, luck and hard work. He sets an example to those born without riches, giving them hope that becoming wealthy is possible, at least for some.
Others are angry at the distance between their frugal income and the wealth amassed by people like Gates. To them, no one should have more money than they can spend. It makes little impression on them that a few wealthy men do give some of it away, like one who, according to a recent report, donated a billion dollars to charity, keeping a paltry six billion for himself.
The distance between rich and poor is not a new thing. Old Testament king Solomon was a wealthy man. He had a yearly revenue of over 25 tons of gold, and owned a fleet of trading ships, 1400 chariots and 12,000 imported horses. His palace was covered with gold and inlaid with ivory. His drinking goblets and all household articles were gold. He had a great store of shields and weapons. Nevertheless, poverty also existed. God’s prophets were continually telling greedy people to take care of the poor among them.
The gospel writers also noted extremes of wealth and poverty during the life of Jesus. The wealthy Roman Empire ruled over many poor people, including some of the disciples. The Lord says very little about the gap. In fact, when a woman came with a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on His head, He accepted this extravagance as an act of worship.
On the other hand, His disciples were indignant. The one who took care of the money blurted, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Jesus told them to leave her alone. He explained she saved this perfume for the day of His burial, then added, “You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them anytime you want, but you will not always have me.”
It needs to be clarified that Jesus was not justifying the giving of money for religious reasons to wiggle out of taking care of those who have needs. He condemned that sort of thing in another passage. Instead, His focus was to point out the woman’s generosity. She was poor but that did not stop her from giving away her precious perfume.
Judas, the disciple who spoke against her, “did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” He completely missed the point Jesus was trying to make. He was blinded to the far greater worth of the Christ by his own greed.
The Scriptures say “God loves a cheerful giver.” If needy people will always be around, maybe the rationale goes something like this: God lovingly provides opportunities for the wealthy to do good. Instead of hoarding their money, they could please Him, and a great many poor people, by becoming cheerful givers.