Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, but much too short to see
Above the heads in front of him, and so he climbed a tree.
As Jesus rode along the road, Zac had a super view
But he got a shock when Jesus stopped to say, “How do you do?
I’m coming to your house tonight, to share your lovely dinner.
I hear you’ve got a super cook, so we won’t be getting thinner!”
The upshot was, as they wiped their chins, old Zac knew he’d done wrong.
With cheating and extortion tricks he’d grown too rich and strong.
“I’ll give the money back, “ he cried, “ four times more than what I owe,
And half my property to the poor. I don’t need all this dough!”
Suppose that Jesus came to town, and you were in Zac’s shoes:
How much would you be prepared to give? Which course would you choose?
This bit of doggerel was inspired by one of Aunty Uta’s posts, referring to the story in the Gospel of Luke, and her reply to a comment of mine. Uta said:
We would have to ask an economist, dear Cat, to find out what would happen if everyone who considers himself wealthy would follow his example. – – - Are you wealthy, Cat? I think in worldwide terms I am wealthy. However in my own land I am far from wealthy! Is there any kind of justice in the distribution of wealth all over the planet? I don’t think so. Has everyone who is very wealthy really earned that much wealth? I don’t think so either. I think the difference between poor and rich has in our time become even more pronounced than in the time of Jesus. Where does this lead? How is a change in thinking possible?
Good questions. Are you wealthy? If you were to pay back fourfold everyone you have ever cheated, and give away half of your assets, would you be worried about surviving? As I have commented before, most people seem to think that if they had just another 10% they would have “enough”. I certainly don’t consider myself wealthy, but compared to the majority of the world’s population, I have more than enough material goods. I am content with what I have and don’t yearn for more. I think that makes me very rich.
Yes, I could give away half of my property and still survive, even in modest comfort, keeping my own roof over my head, staying clothed and enjoying enough income to heat and eat. I’d have to sacrifice a few luxuries, obviously. As for paying back fourfold those I have cheated … I would need to reflect long and hard on that. I may be the victim of repressed memories, but I can’t think of anyone I have cheated. At least, not lately. I pay my taxes and tithes. I may in the past have got away with not paying my bus fare or using my time at work for my own purposes, but that wouldn’t cost me more than the price of a meal in a good restaurant.
So my contribution to solving the problem of world poverty and the redistribution of wealth would be a very tiny drop in the ocean. On the other hand, if all the millionaires and billionaires on the planet were to follow the example of Bill Gates and his ilk, which in many cases is charitable giving to avoid high levels of taxation, the result might be different. The Sultan of Brunei, for instance, might do an inordinate amount of good by following Zacchaeus’ precept.
As an antidote to my simplistic thinking, here’s a well argued piece http://www.theawl.com/2012/06/our-billionaire-philanthropists by an expert. Of course, we also have to remember that Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and in many western countries the Tax Office tries its best to legislate in order to make the wealthiest citizens cough up half their income. Tax avoidance – and in some cases, evasion – is one modern form of cheating.
I think Uta has hit the nail on the head with her last question: How is a change in thinking possible?
Forget for a moment the generally prevalent secular materialism of our society, and consider the world’s main religions which a large proportion of humankind profess to follow. Is there not a basic ideal of “do unto others as you would be done by” common to all of them? We venerate and respect those who try to put this into practice by denying themselves – Ghandi and Mother Teresa spring to mind – and speak of their inspiring example, but we still look after Number One first. A vast change in the global mindset is needed. I wonder if it’s possible. And if so, how do we bring that about?