This articulation of experience is usually found on some poster that portrays the trappings of wealth. This saying asserts well an attitude that shapes the worldview of the minority of the world's population, who are rich, and the aspiration of the majority, who are poor. The possibility exists of demonizing the rich and romanticizing the poor. However, that would be to miss the mark. The possibility also exists of forgetting that this wariness about wealth is a universal human concern. Socrates understood his mission to the people of Athens as one of getting them to care more for the state of their souls than for possessing as much wealth as possible. Socrates, like Jesus and Paul, recognized that like all creatures, wealth is a good, but not the good. As a creature and a good, wealth is of limited value. Possessing wealth does not guarantee possession of the most important things.
Today's readings offer quite sensible counsels about wealth, counsels that deny the truth of the view that rich is better. "Make friends for yourselves through your use of this world's goods, so that when they fail you, a lasting reception will be yours. If you can trust a man in little things, you can also trust him in greater; while anyone unjust in a slight matter is also unjust in greater." Who one is and what one does with what one has are more important than what one has. Jesus's insight into the unreliability of money regarding the most important things and how one's valuation of it discloses character is gained only by painful experience, if it is achieved at all.
Paul's own experience cuts through the false dilemma between being rich and being poor. "I am experienced in being brought low, yet I know what it is to have an abundance. I have learned how to cope with every circumstance how to eat well or go hungry, to be well provided for or do without. In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything." It is not the economy, it is the economy of salvation. Paul's experiential insight allows him to properly appreciate the financial contribution of the Philippians as the gift that it is, to be grateful for it and the good that it will do in the relief of suffering.
The accumulation and valuation of wealth is an appropriate target for moral assessment, but it is an easy target because it is visible. What is as important as a target of moral assessment are those less visible ways in which we rely on the unreliable, the ways in which we do not make friends for ourselves by the way we use the goods of this world.
"I've been rich and I've been poor, and in him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything."
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