Tied For Last Place (part 1)

I like the prayer Jesus taught his disciples so much, I actually use it.  Yesterday morning I was praying through it when my mind wandered away.  Ever have that happen while praying? 

I got to the part that goes “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” (I know, right near the beginning, sheesh) and – get this – I started thinking about being rich.  Yeah, really!  In the middle of The Lord’s Prayer of all times! 

Then I started thinking about everything my wife and I own. 

Then I started thinking about everything we don’t own that others do own. 

And I wallowed in that for a moment. 

Then my mind wandered back to the prayer and I kept going:  “…on earth as it is in heaven.”  And of course the prayer goes on from there. 

Well, later in the day I came back to the whole thing of being rich.  Mostly because it concerns me a bit that my mind would imagine such things while praying.  I decided to try something…

# 2 Carlos Slim Helu
Net Worth $69 billion
I searched online for a list of the richest people in the world.  Ever do this?  Top links are always Forbes.com.  Top earners are always the same.  Line by line with images of each person… 
#1 – Bill Gates - $72 billion
#2 – A telecom guy from Mexico - $69 billion
#3 – Warren Buffet - $58.5 billion
#4 – A fashion website guy from Spain - $57 billion
#5 – Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison - $41 billion
And it precipitates from there with folks like the Walton family (of Wal-Mart fame) and a host of others whose “source of earnings” indicates either oil or banking or something called “diversified” (?).  Each of these top spots with varying (and staggering) net worth’s.  Each person with sole possession of their position on the chart. 

Moving down the chart, however, there begins to emerge several “ties” for various places on the list… 
Two people tied for 24th with $20.3 billion. 
Three people tied for 36th with $17 billion. 
Four people tied for 69th with $13 billion. 
Eventually the list ends with 85 people tied for 1332nd place, each with a personal net worth of $1 billion.  Guess they didn’t see fit to dip the list into the millions.  I suspect there’d be too many ties.

Then I went to the other end of the list.  I searched online for the poorest people in the world.  Who’s in last place?  No link to Forbes.com this time.  Guess they aren’t interested in compiling this list.  Plenty of Google images though.  No names on these images, and no lists of people.  And I don’t think it’s because no one cares.  I hope it isn’t anyway.  Rather, I suspect it’s because we really have no idea how many people are tied for last place.

Jesus brought up issues of riches and wealth from time to time.  At the end of this post is a list of several such instances.  Mostly he wasn’t taken by it; he didn’t hold it in any high esteem.  Often enough he was speaking out against riches because of its sneaky potential power over us.  But curiously, he hardly ever gave “rich” an amount. 

I’m the one who’s done that.

It’s so easy for me here in America to look across the street or across town and calculate the reality that I am not rich.  There is always someone nearby who has a bigger house or a newer car or fancier clothes or a better job.  In doing this I decide “rich” is an adjective for people with apparently positive rank; those are the folks whose place on the list is somewhere near the top, perhaps first even.  And I… well, since I do not have the bigger, newer, fancier, and better, I must occupy a place somewhere near the bottom.

The problem is I stop there, with across the street or across town.  These become evidence enough that I am not the rich guy from Jesus’ parable (see Luke 12 passage below) and I should skip joyfully through the narrow gate of the Kingdom of God into eternity with nary a bump or a bruise. 

But what if I…or we look further, since perhaps by now you’ve realized we aren’t all that different and you’ve caught up with me in conviction?  What if we took our eye off our myopic minority world of riches and wealth, where we run in busy circles blinded by materialistic comparisons and glitzy marketing?  What if we looked toward the majority world; the 2/3 of this inhabited planet that promptly places me, poor old me, in the top 10% of the richest people?  

In my search for the poorest people in the world the links that did come up indicated that an easier metric for measuring the bottom end of the list is by country.  Here you go… 
70 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are all tied for last place; poorest country in the world.
These and millions more in the D.R. Congo
are tied for last place on the list of
 richest people in the world.
4.1 million people in Liberia are all tied for second to last place.
13. 7 million people in Zimbabwe are all tied for third to last place.
9.9 million people in Burundi are all tied for fourth to last place.
And 6.1 million people in Eritrea are all tied for fifth to last place.

All these people are firmly positioned on the bottom end of the list of richest people in the world.  All these people live on $1 or less per day on average.  All these people have a “source of earnings” that is somewhere far below “diversified” to be sure. 

Here are 100 million people who would have to save for 2 days to buy our coffee; 3 if they want flavor. 
The men would have to save for at least a month if they wanted to take their wives out for dinner at our Olive Garden. 
The women would have to save for at least two months if they wanted a new dress from our JCPenny to wear to church. 
They would have to save for a year to get one of our 40” Class 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV.  If they could be happy with a slightly smaller Class 720p 60Hz LED TV, they would only have to save for 2/3 of the year.  Add an extended warrantee, however, and they’re back up to a full year’s savings.
If they wanted to be able to drive and pick up the TV instead of have to walk it home they would have to save for anywhere between 7 and 100 years, depending on whether they wanted something new with a few options or could get by with something used, but reliable.    

Certainly you sense my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek, but I’m biting it pretty hard to keep it there.  I’m disappointed in myself for leaving my prayer to God for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth in places like DR Congo or Liberia as it is in heaven so my mind could stagger about in the self-pitied muck of feeling deprived, underprivileged…poor even. 

All of a sudden that narrow gate of the Kingdom of God I was skipping through without bump or bruise has shrunk to the size of the eye of a needle.  And I’m not so sure I’ll fit through; let alone my library of books, two desks, woodworking tools, and a ’95 Ford Escort wagon.

And right now I’m stuck in a moment of realizing that when Jesus talked about the “rich,” he was talking about me…us.

But there’s more…some encouragement.  Stay tuned.

Passages on riches and wealth:
·         Matthew 6:19-24 – Jesus suggests a better, more eternal, investment is to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.  They’re safe there.  And you’ll find your heart there also.  He finishes by declaring it impossible to serve two masters, God and money, at the same time.
·         Matthew 8:19-20 – Apparently Jesus didn’t own a house since he had nowhere to lay his head.  And any would-be followers would find no luxurious accommodations where he wandered either.  (cf. Luke 9:57-62)
·         Matthew 10:8-10 – Jesus sent his disciples off on mission and instructed them to leave their bags and bread behind…and don’t expect payment for work…oh, and leave the gold and silver alone.  (cf. Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5)
·         Matthew 11:5 – Here the poor are the ones who got to hear the good news preached!  (cf. Luke 4:18, 7:22)
·         Matthew 13:7, 22 – That parable Jesus told about sowing seed; that is, sowing the gospel that springs forth into new life in those who will receive it…  Well, there was seed that fell amidst thorns and actually grew up nicely until the thorns grew up all around and choked the life out of it.  Know what Jesus called the thorns?  “…the deceitfulness of riches.” 
·         Matthew 19:16-30 – Jesus tells a rich young man to sell everything he possess and give the money to the poor.  That didn’t sit well with the young man.  Later Jesus tells the disciples, most of whom left everything to follow him, that they’d have their due reward in heaven.  (cf. Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30)
·         Mark 12:41-44 – After several rich folks dropped their hefty sums into the offering box, Jesus watched as a poor widow offered up her last two copper coins.  He tells his disciples she actually gave more than the others because she gave her all from her nothing.

·        Luke 12:13-21 – Jesus calls people fools who hoard up wealth and riches here on earth because our lives are barely a breath.  God may demand our souls from us in an instant’s notice.  Then what was it all worth?


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