Understanding wealth

How much would you pay to save someone you love?

Preparing a talk about what some ancient proverbs have to say about wealth, I reacquainted myself with Jean Paul Getty. A few years ago I read his biography, All the Money in the World (not to be confused with the film of the same title). His life is fascinating reading and I thought a great object lesson about the logical end point of someone’s life as a result of the their inner drives.

I came across this 3 minute interview of him

At around the 2 and a half minute mark the interviewer asks him, “Do you ever worry about the biblical proverb of the Rich Man and the Kingdom of Heaven?” It is interesting what he replies in the light of an event that was to occur some thirteen years after this.

You are worth .0015%

What happened was that his grandson, Jean Paul Getty III was kidnapped and held to ransom for $10 million. His parents didn’t have a hope of paying this, so they turned to his grandfather, Jean Paul Getty.

It’s a sad tale, but after 5 months of negotiations, Getty agreed to pay $3 million, of which $2.2 million was gift, (this was the maximum for which he could get a tax deduction) and $800,000 was a loan to the boy’s father (Getty’s son) at 4% interest. I worked out, that based on his net worth at the time, this was about 0.0015% of Getty’s net worth.

I think that says it all about the priorities in Getty’s life and about the value he placed on his grandson.

What drives us?

But what about us? Most will not attain to Getty’s wealth, but we are all driven by something. The problem is, if we don’t watch our hearts, the driver becomes the driven. We become the thing that our desires lead us to.

And this is seen in no more vivid way in our consumption-crazy culture, than in the way we use our wealth.

Ancient wisdom – becoming a blessing

There is a story told about Abraham in the Bible. Abraham is perhaps the most significant religious figure in what Christians refer to as the Old Testament and prominent in Jewish and Islamic traditions. The story of his call by God is captured in this passage:

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.[a]
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you
.

Genesis 12: 1-3

Here we have the essence of why we are blessed by God: it is to be a blessing to others.

This is echoed in one of the Solomon’s proverbs, where is says

A generous person will prosper;

whoever refreshes others will be refreshed

Proverbs 11:25

The word generous, comes with the same meaning as blessed.

A blessed person is a generous person.

A challenge to be generous

I came across an article by Daniel Petre, in the Australian Financial Review, called the Case for Giving – why its time the wealthy did the right thing. He talks about how his cultural frameworks were challenged after living in the United States as the Vice President of a product group for Microsoft. He and his wife have taken the step of locking away 30% of their net worth to give away. He challenges other wealthy Australians to think of doing similarly.

I found this a challenging article, not because I am wealthy, at least by the standards of those Petre is aiming at. I will never make the Forbes Rich List. However I am wealthy, when you think about a simple definition I came up with after thinking about this topic for a long time:

Wealth is having the resources to be able to spend my life in my own way

Gabriel

Having worked for the welfare and community sector for most of my life, I know that I have so much more than many in Australia, and the vast majority in our world. Materially, I really have nothing to complain about.

My home after a fresh coat of paving paint. It’s more than most people have in this world.

My challenge is, if I am serious about my faith as a Christian, I cannot take for granted the blessing I have received. Yet, it is even more basic than that. Ultimately, I choose what I will become. Jean Paul Getty decided as a young man what he would become – and being a loving, generous (or blessed) grandfather was not one of those things.

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