A 2014 study from Wells Fargo revealed that the most challenging topic to discuss with others is personal finances (44%); whereas death (38%), politics (35%), religion (32%), taxes (21%), and personal health (20%) rank as less difficult. We don’t like talking about money. We don’t like knowing how much money our friends earn or have in capital, although we do prefer friends in a similar financial situation to ourselves. We like the confidence of knowing that activities we suggest will not embarrass them because they can’t afford to share with us. So, we do tend to avoid contact with poorer people.
Sometimes, we hope infrequently, people will ask us for a loan; in my experience, this is mainly from one’s own children. More frequently, people doing good works will ask us to give money with no hope of return. It is quite popular with people who are comfortably off to ask for donations to charity instead of birthday or Christmas presents because these give the same rosy glow of having been given a gift without the drag of having to take it to a charity shop the next day.
Let’s be clear, the distribution of money is a key ingredient in a happy society at peace with itself, a society that has shared values and mission. Societies with the greatest differences between rich and poor tend to be more violent and less content on any scale that researchers think up. Priscilla, writing in Hebrews 13:16, says
“Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”
Working for the common good to create a peaceful and happy society is not the responsibility of government, it is down to all of us, in every interaction. In this blog on August 11th, I reported John Wesley’s decision in 1731 to limit his financial needs so that he had a surplus to give away. If we do have enough money above our regular needs, if we are so fortunate, then we can respond to requests for donations to good causes. The only thing that hurts more is not being able to give. Even the poorest people will give a stranger a meal, and that is a clue to happiness.
In Luke 14:14, Jesus says:
“The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!”
If someone is poorer than we are and asks us for a loan to “Tide them over”, remember that their alternative might be an extortionate pay-day, or log-book, lender. If we are fortunate enough to have surplus, if we judge that money is the problem, then the smart thing to do is to give rather than to lend. The response to the offer to “pay back” is surely to ask instead that the recipient “pay forward”. When they have a surplus, to give again to someone in greater need. As Polonius says in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be…
This is the message of Jesus: don’t hoard treasure on Earth!