So Jesus told them this story: A rich man's farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, "What can I do? I don't have a place large enough to store everything." Later, he said, "Now I know what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods. Then I'll say to myself, `You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.' "But God said to him, "You fool! Tonight you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?" This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves, but are poor in the sight of God. - Luke 12:16-21
This morning, economics is on my mind. I know what you're thinking, "Why would Derek do that?" But I can't help myself. It's all over the news; and opinion and commentary and politics are all loaded with money talk right now.
Then there's the fact that there is a huge "life-charged" dimension to economics. How we handle our finances makes a profound difference in the way that we live, and there is something going on every single day where the idea of "stewardship" is relevant.
Today I read a letter to the editor in The Tampa Tribune where the writer took a shot at Warren Buffett. Buffett, a multimillionaire, is advocating higher taxes for wealthier Americans. The letter writer took issue with Buffet, saying that the role of government is not the redistribution of wealth.
The letter-writer was correct, in part. But the foundational idea, the belief-system that causes most people to say things like "The role of government is not the redistribution of wealth" is deeply flawed.
Too many of us are confused and way off track when it comes to the whole idea of wealth, and what wealth is for.
So, yes, it may be correct to say that the government is not supposed to redistribute wealth... but it is also correct to say that wealthy people are not supposed to hoard it for themselves.
The wealth, you see, is not ours to begin with. Those who have it are simply stewards of something that was never intended for anything other than the common good. We have, in other words, stewardship rather than ownership. Let me explain by telling you a story.
One upon a time there was a man who was gifted (among other things) with two three very powerful entrepreneurial attributes. He was gifted with intelligence, he was gifted with vision, and he worked hard. He used those gifts to create just enough money in order to start a business. He thought long and hard about how to go about this, and came to the conclusion that he had been given these gifts - and the responsibility that came along with them - in order to improve the lives of families in his town.
So, he started a small manufacturing company with the expressed mission of A) Making a living, and B) Creating good jobs for those trying to provide for their families. As the business grew, he took a modest income, supported charitable efforts and reinvested the balance of the profits into the business, thereby improving wages and benefits and the standard of living for his community.
Years passed by and his son continued the mission. Eventually, somewhere around 150 good jobs depended on the factory. In time the son also retired, and the business was purchased by people who had a different viewpoint - they believed that the purpose of wealth was to make themselves rich and powerful and self-satisfied.
The new owners paid themselves exorbitant salaries; they invented the idea of "bonuses" to pull additional money out; and they stopped investing in their employees and the community. Consequently the business lost its competitive edge and the town was less blessed by its presence. Then, in a move that was 100% concerned with personal gain, the owners (who had discovered they could pay overseas workers much less) outsourced manufacturing to India and closed the plant.
The owners boosted their personal fortunes, purchased new luxury cars they did not need, stashed money in off-shore accounts, and paid stockholders a modest dividend.
The town cried.
Economic arguments that emerge from a fundamental value that is not rooted in a commitment to "the greater good" miss the whole point of wealth. They also miss an amazing life-charged opportunity. Wealth is not something we can own, it's something we are responsible to.
So, to re-cap. I'm not saying wealth should be re-distributed by the government. I'm saying it should be put to work, for the people. It's really not ours to hold on to.
So Jesus told them this story: A rich man's successful farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, What can I do? I don't have a place large enough to store everything. Later, he said, Now I know what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods. Then I'll say to myself, `You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, "You fool! Tonight you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?" This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves, but are poor in the sight of God. - Luke 12:16-21