Treasure on earth or treasure in heaven?

As many of the world’s wealthiest people gathered at Davos recently for the World Economic Forum, Oxfam International published a report calling for action to address the growing gap between rich and poor. The report reveals that the 42 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who live in the poorer half of the world. 8 billionaires possess the same wealth as 50% of the world’s population.

Between 2006 and 2015 the wealth of billionaires rose by an average of 13% per year, a total of £550bn, enough to end extreme poverty in the world seven times over. The founder of Amazon is now the richest man in the world because an increase in the Wall Street stock market in the first 10 days of 2017 saw his personal wealth increase by £4.3bn. So, is being rich the key to happiness in this life and in eternity?

A rich young ruler once came to Jesus and, falling on his knees, asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.'” The man declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Many of those who live in poverty, surviving on a dollar a day, are richer than the richest people on earth because they have put their faith and hope in God. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Reflecting on the World Economic Forum

Oxfam International published a report as 2500 of the world’s political and business elites met in Davos in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum. The most striking statistic in the report is that the 85 richest people in the world have as much money as the 3.5billion poorest people put together, half the total world population. The top 1% of earners in the world own 46% of the world’s total wealth. The Executive Director of Oxfam International, Ms Winnie Byanyima, said, “Extreme inequality is undermining social stability and threatening global security.”

God cares deeply about poor people. In the Old Testament he gave laws to safeguard the poor from being exploited by the rich and powerful. He commanded a weekly day of rest for all people, including servants. It was to be a Sabbath to the Lord their God. Every 7 years there was a Sabbath Year of rest for the land when “the poor among your people may get food from it.” In the Sabbath Year slaves were set free and debts were cancelled.

Every 50 years there was also a Jubilee Year when those who had bought land returned it to its original owners, all debts were cancelled and all slaves set free. For 2 years the people lived in dependence on God to provide for all their needs. The Jubilee Year was a time of joyful celebration of God’s goodness and faithfulness. The Jubilee Year restored equality. No Israelite could forever remain a slave. The Jubilee Year ensured social justice as the poor were lifted up. The good things God provides are not for a favoured few, but for us all.

Jesus spoke very clearly about the danger of riches. A rich religious leader once asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knew this man’s wealth meant everything to him and had taken God’s place in his life. So he said to him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” When he heard this the young man went away very sad. Looking at him Jesus said, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” True wealth is spiritual. What counts, ultimately, for us all is not our “net worth” but that we have a rich relationship with God.