A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions…
A recent newspaper article had an interesting account of the ten richest men in Kerala. Starting from Kerala’s favourite entrepreneur (of Lulu Mall fame), Mr Yusuf Ali, it went on to name other famous business magnates whose empires spanned Kerala, Bangalore and the Middle East. The stories were interesting and inspiring. They had set high goals and their personal tenacity and hard work had brought them rich rewards. It reminded me of the biblical story of the ten talents and the Lord’s appreciation for those who multiply the worth of the gifts and capabilities they are naturally endowed with.
A natural outcome of hard labour, as seen in the lives of these successful businessmen is an unprecedented spurt in income and resources. Each of these illustrious individuals had a net worth of thousands of crores. Having reached a safe haven after life’s hard toil, most of us would agree that it was a just reward. And yet the Bible warns us time and again about the ill-effects of excessive wealth. The Lord even goes upto the extent of issuing a stern warning in Matthew 6:24 – You cannot serve both God and money.
These two contrary streams of thought require deep reflection. On the one hand, we are inspired and enamoured by these success stories. We encourage our children with these real life hero narratives and we celebrate each successful milestone in their lives. Where, then, does the path begin to bend? What could be the possible consequences of a sudden rush of wealth? What caused the Lord to warn us repeatedly of the danger of gaining the world and losing one’s soul?
Money in itself is just a practical tool we all use as an essential part of our lives. Its latent danger lies in the emotions and feelings it is capable of inspiring. A 2015 edition of Harvard Business Review outlines an experiment carried out by researchers who scanned the brains of a few people involved in a money game. This was to understand the neural reaction to monetary gains. The results were shocking. The brain scans of these people were almost identical to those of drug addicts high on cocaine. The utility of money is also similar to drug consumption, requiring increasingly larger spends to maintain the same level of ‘satisfaction.’ Uncontrolled, its apetite becomes insatiable, and leads to workaholism and other compulsive disorders.
Apart from its utility, there is also the effect of its presence. The world pays great respect to wealth and the owners of financial resources. As people fight for a chance to be with the rich and the famous, as institutions honor them with invitations, they begin to see themselves in a different light. On their part they try to force fit themselves into the larger-than-life image that the sychophants around them have created. They have to be seen in the right places, have the right possessions, and adopt the right life style. It requires large doses of spirituality and self discipline to push these influences away and lead a normal life.
Most of us have heard of the maxim “Time is money” ostensibly attributed to Dr Benjamin Franklin. On the surface, it is a sincere call to hard work. However it is not advisable to equate the two words. Those who tend to live by this philosophy will waste little time in areas that do not generate money. Concern for others and care giving activities all get shifted to the backburner. In the short span of life every experience is transient and each phase drifts by with a promise of no return. Anyone who has missed the precious years when children grew up, or opportunities to be with aging parents, in the rush to grab the golden pot would have made a fatal mistake they would regret when time has run out and only the money is left.
There are two instances in the Bible when Jesus lays heavy strictures on rich people. One is through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was banished to everlasting fire of Hell simply because he did not proactively use his money to look after his less fortunate neighbour Lazarus. Another instance is when Jesus answers a rich man’s question on how to gain eternal life. On being asked to give everything away to the poor, the story goes that the man went away sadly for he possessed great wealth.
Detachment and equitable distribution—these are two essential elements that one should strive to retain if the Lord makes us custodians of His abundance. Like the early Christians let us carry out the Lord’s intention if He has blessed us with great wealth.