Good Shepherd Community of Faith
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Wealth Without Work
7 Deadly Social Sins: Wealth Without Work
Proverbs 10:1-7; James 5:1-6; Luke 4:1-13
Last week I started a sermon series on Gandhi’s 7 Deadly Social Sins. Does anyone recall the first deadly social sin? Yes, it was Politics without Principles. The reading last week was from 1 Samuel, chapter 8, in which God warns that having a king would bring much despair because the king would build his empire on the backs of the average citizen. In other words, the king would build his wealth without work. Well, without work on his part. The work would be done by those who were less fortunate.
Instead of looking at 1 Samuel again, however, today we look at Proverbs, James, and the gospel of Luke. I don’t think the reading from Proverbs needs much explanation; it is pretty clear. In fact, The Message says, “Ill-gotten gain gets you nowhere,” and “Sloth makes you poor; diligence brings wealth.” This paraphrase also states, “Make hay while the sun shines—that’s smart; go fishing during harvest—that’s stupid.” The implication is that one cannot become wealthy without work, but we know many people who have done just that. I contend, however, that one should not attempt to become wealthy without work.
The letter of James also tells it like it is. I always remember that this book of the Bible was Ruth Ann’s dad’s favorite. Do you remember that I once told you James was called “Old Camel Knees” because of thick calluses on his knees from spending so much time in determined prayer? Anyway, in chapter 5, James condemns the rich. The Message refers to them as the “arrogant” rich and goes on to say, “All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up.”
Undoubtedly, things are the same today when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class suffers under an immense burden. But, I add one other element to this scenario: We all hope to find an easy way to get rich. We all want wealth without work. So, why does Gandhi call wealth without work a deadly social sin? Because often when one person becomes wealthy, someone else suffers.
Today, the average worker makes $7.39 per hour. The average CEO makes $1,566.68 per hour—212 times more! This is ‘trickle up’ economics: the transfer of wealth from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich. This widening chasm between the rich and the poor also has a direct effect on taxes. The rich enjoy ever-increasing tax breaks, leaving the tax burden on the shoulders of the middle and lower segments of society. In fact, according to an article I recently received, the multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to repeal the federal estate tax has been aggressively led by 18 super-wealthy families. These families include some who are behind WalMart, Gallo wine, Campbell’s soup, and Mars Inc., maker of M&Ms.
Another example of inequality is found in the realm of medicine. Jay Walljasper writes, ‘When you combine two important subjects in the headlines these days—world poverty and extravagant profits in the health-care industry—a challenging and depressing new issues arises. People in the global South are being denied access to life-saving medicine.” Indeed, “[t]he typical victim is too poor to pay for treatments,” and “only 10 percent of the world’s research dollars are spent on the problems that afflict 90 percent of the world’s population.”
But, you may wonder what all this has to do with us. We are not executives making $1,566.68 per hour. We are not enjoying ever-increasing tax breaks. We are not lobbying for repeal of the federal estate tax. We are not pharmaceutical companies that are spending $7.2 billion per year promoting drugs to doctors and $4.2 billion per year on consumer advertising, while only $1.8 billion per year is spent on health and nutrition. What does the deadly social sin of wealth without work say to and about us?
And, that’s where I bring in the lesson from Luke 4: Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus was led into the wild, where for forty days and nights he was tested by the Devil. All kinds of temptations were placed in front of Jesus. He was offered all the kingdoms of the earth. That would have made him a wealthy man. But Jesus refused, and said that you should worship and serve only the Lord your God. To accept would have meant that he was worshipping wealth and Satan rather than God. We are tempted, too. We are tempted to take the easy way out, and many people do.
First, we are complicit in a society that affords high salaries and tax breaks and advertising benefits to certain people because we are consumers, and we are not careful consumers. Like Jesus in the wilderness, we are tempted; we are tempted by massive advertising campaigns that appeal to our desires, especially if we think we are getting something for nothing. Take, for instance, WalMart. They undercut their competitors with low prices, and we are drawn to them because we think we can save so much money. But we don’t stop to think about who suffers when we get those low prices. We don’t look into WalMart’s record on sweatshop conditions for their manufacturers, or the low salaries they pay, or the lack of benefits they offer to their employees, or the smaller independent businesses they run out. I understand they are trying to clean up their track record (or at least their image), but I just give them as one example. We must become informed consumers and shop more carefully.
Beyond uninformed consumerism, however, there are other ways in which we commit the deadly social sin of wealth without work—even those of us who are middle class or even poor, as we may be the more tempted. For instance, we might cheat, and rationalize doing so. But if I cheat, whether it be on my taxes or on an insurance claim, or by “fudging the numbers”, someone will suffer. If I do not pay my fair share of taxes, for instance, social programs may be cut.
Speaking of social programs, Gary Cox, pastor of University Congregational Church in Wichita, Kansas, wrote a couple of sermons on Gandhi’s 7 Deadly Social Sins. In his sermon on wealth without work, he said, “This deadly sin does not affect only those with great wealth; in fact, it cuts across the economic landscape.” He says he has personally seen the corrosive effect of wealth without work on three occasions. One of those was when a friend of his decided to take a free ride through life on welfare. Cox reveals, “My friend was extremely intelligent, and he learned early on how to play the system to his advantage.” Cox agrees that we need a safety net for those people who are truly in the shadows of life. He says, “Life has a way of running people over now and then, and it is our moral duty to help those people back on their feet.
“But I imagine we can also agree that it is frustrating to discover there are those who take our good intentions and become parasites on the system. They not only take from those of us who support the system, in doing so they take from the people who honestly need our help.” And such was the case with his friend. “He was lazy. He saw no need to work, and he was more than happy to get by on what money he could squeeze out of the welfare system. When times got tough, he would supplement his welfare check by working long enough to build up a little unemployment insurance, and then manage to get fires so he could draw unemployment.” In the end, Cox’s friend became a drug addict, and his life just spiraled downward until he ended up in prison for selling drugs—another get-rich-quick means that is destructive to society.
But, getting back to you and I. Most likely you are not trying to cheat the system like Cox’s friend, and you are not selling drugs, but you might steal. When someone steals, the cost goes back to those who can ill afford to pick up the tab. I heard that some people go into the Galleria Mall near closing time and just as a store is about to close, they grab an armful of clothes and run. Supposedly the clerks have been told to just let them go. But who pays for that? We do. Prices are raised to cover the cost of theft.
Now, I certainly hope that no one in this congregation would commit such blatant theft, but there may be ways in which you steal, and you don’t even see it that way. Did you ever take a box of pens from your place of employment? Envelopes? Paper? Scotch tape? Who will notice? Who will care? The company can afford it. But do you think they will reduce that CEO’s $1,566.68—per hour salary to cover the expense? No! They charge the consumer more! Are you getting wealthy because you took a few pens or envelopes or sheets of paper or rolls of scotch tape? Of course not. But the concept of wealth without work still applies because you are getting something for nothing. As author Stephen R. Covey says in his book, Principle Centered Leadership, “This [deadly social sin] refers to the practice of getting something for nothing—manipulating markets and assets so you don’t have to work or produce added value without working, making much money without paying taxes, benefiting from free government programs without carrying a fair share of the burdens, and enjoying all the perks of citizenship of country and membership of corporation without assuming any of the risk of responsibility.”
So, with that in mind, let’s go back to Proverbs: “Ill-gotten gain gets you nowhere.” “Sloth makes you poor; diligence brings wealth.” “Make hay while the sun shines—that’s smart; go fishing during harvest—that’s stupid.” And most important of all: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.” Amen.