Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Is Enough, Enough?

The big political news these days is the tax deal brokered by President Obama and Republicans to extend the "Bush Tax Cuts" and add several others in an attempt to further stimulate the U.S. economy.  According to most pundits, both sides are having to swallow some bitter pills to make this bill a reality for John Q public, and in typical fashion, the loudest voices in opposition are getting the most air time on the public airwaves.

One interesting voice arose a couple days ago as Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont staged a mini-filibuster on this bill.


In his speech, he repeatedly asked the question: How much is enough?  Of course, he was directing such a question at those who have accumulated a great deal of wealth. 

Sanders was arguing that those who have amassed a certain amount of wealth should carry more responsibility when it comes to paying for the cost of governing our country.

In some regards, Sanders' argument is bibilically based:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.  --Luke 12: 48b

Incidentally, that's Jesus speaking there--a pretty good source of authority. 

This passage is found within Jesus' teachings on the end of days when the Lord will return.  Jesus, as I read this text, is encouraging His disciples to be devoted to the work of the Kingdom of God so that when the Lord indeed returns, He finds folks laboring at His work and not taking part in their own selfish desires.

In a very real way, this text is about stewardship--our using the gifts God has entrusted to us.  If God has entrusted us with much, much is expected out of us.  That means our time, our talent, our money, our very lives. 

But it does beg then the question: when is enough, enough?  And, further, who decides when enough is enough?

Ah, now here is the rub, is it not?

The day after Sanders' speech on the Senate floor, Glenn Beck followed up on Sanders' comment.  Interestingly enough, even Beck recognized that there comes a time when one must put a limit on the pursuit of wealth.  He quoted a dear friend of his who told him that if one continues to pursue wealth, it eventually becomes all consuming.  You will never have enough.

So according to Beck, his friend told him, "Decide how much is enough.  Get to that point, and then do something else with what you make."

Beck used this illustration to point out his belief that the government has no business telling anyone how much is enough.  It should be left up to individuals to decide how much is enough.

There is merit to what Beck says. 

As Christians, God does give us guidance in how we should be stewards.  We are to feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; visit the sick and imprisoned; love our neighbor as ourselves; care for creation; care for those who have a need. 

Yet, even as God helps us know what we SHOULD do, He does not force us to do it.  God does not say, "Do this or I will come down there and zap you."  In this life, we have freedom to choose how we will be stewards of what we have been given.

Now, there are some very stern warnings about what will happen if we are not good stewards.  Remember this little story from Matthew 25:

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

There are some real consequences to abdicating our stewardship.  Yet, in this parable, there is nothing wrong with the continued acquisition of wealth--especially if it is in service to the Master.

So, now we come to the crossroads:

1. If it's o.k. for a Christian to acquire wealth,
2. If there is no limit on how much a Christian can acquire,
3. If God doesn't punish in this lifetime for poor stewardship,
4. If there are those who do not practice stewardship according to biblical standards,

Should someone step in to ensure that stewardship is being practiced "correctly?"  (I put that in quotes because I'm not exactly sure what correct stewardship is.  I have a feeling that we all miss the mark when it comes to the concept of biblical stewardship.)

Is Bernie Sanders right when he says the government should tax the wealthy more because they have enough?  Is Glenn Beck right when he says it should be left up to individuals to decide for themselves?

I guess much of it depends upon where a person's bottom line is.  It's always easier for a person to look at someone wealthier and say, "He or she has more, so he or she should pay more."  But if my bottom line was higher up there, I guarantee you, I'd be singing a different tune.

I wish I had the answer to this one.  It's pretty difficult to slosh through.  Do I think I have enough?  Materially, yes.  I'm in good shape with the stuff I have.  Do I think I have enough in the bank?  Does anyone?  For me, looking at three children who are going to go through school, want to drive, go to college, get married, etc.... and then if I eventually want to retire...I'd have to say, "No.  I don't think the bank account looks so good."

Yet, could I afford to pay more to Uncle Sam particularly in light of massive deficits, faltering Social Security, and a continued need to support those who have lost their jobs due to mismanagement by others?  I could.  Things would be a little tighter, but we would manage.

When is enough, enough?  I just don't know, I guess.  Perhaps, in the big scheme of things, we would do better to stop worrying about what others are doing, how they are managing their wealth, and instead focus on our own stewardship and handling of what we do have.  Perhaps, our lives might get a little easier.

Then again, what do I really know?

Probably, not much.

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