5.03.2011

From Everyone Who Has Been Given Much, Much Will Be Required


I enjoyed this study on whether those who have less give more. It is consistent with my experience here in urban Philadelphia as well as my summer in Eastern Europe in 1994: the poorer you are, the more generous you seem to be.

The study hypothesizes a reason: that the poorer you are, the more you are impelled to be sensitized to the needs of others, which makes more likely an attitude of looking out for each other. That seems sensible, especially when applied to situations in which you are not an island of poverty in a sea of wealth. If many around you are in need, it makes sense that you will be mindful to pool scarce resources, and to help out when you can and be helped when others can.

If we are among those with an abundance of resources, we should read this with some discomfort. For giving should be easier for us, not harder, since we have more to give, and can live comfortably with the remainder even if we give a considerable amount. And yet we are often stingier, relatively speaking, in our giving.

Having considered the poor's response to their poverty, let us consider the rich's response to their wealth. Could it be that, while the poor are more empathetic to others' needs because of their need, we could be less empathetic to others' needs because of our lack of need? And/or, could it be that we are not rich in resources (a neutral descriptor of our station in life) but are also more invested in those resources (a moral judgment)? As we accumulate more and more, do we in turn place more and more of ourselves - our happiness, our sense of worth, our source of security - in those things?

The Bible is clear on this subject. Consider Luke 12:48: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." And yet, as I have gained more and more over my lifetime, I feel I have become less and less generous in my heart, with my time, and perhaps (as a percentage of income) as it concerns my money. To be sure, as my wealth has increased, so have my responsibilities, most prominently becoming a father of two. But those with far less means than I also have familial obligations, so that is an insufficient excuse.

The fact of the matter is that, as unmaterialistic as I try to say that I am, I am not much different from most other people with an abundance of resources, in that that abundance has not freed me to have an abundance of generosity. Rather, it has more often than not me made feel more guarded in my allocation of what I perceive to be the scarce resources of my time and money. The more that is required of us is painfully contrasted with the less that we actually do. Shame on me, and shame on others in my generation, especially when those resources could be deployed for such great use all over the world.

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