Sunday, September 23, 2007

Closing The Gap

Luke 16:19-31
Some Christians have taken the teaching of people like Jeremiah and turned it into a 'prosperity doctrine', arguing that if we put our trust in God we will prosper. There is no doubt that Jeremiah did believe something like this, but he wasn't thinking of individual prosperity. His argument was that nations and communities will prosper when they put their trust in God.

In the same vein, the writer of the letters to Timothy explains that, for individual Christians, trusting God means sitting light to our own material possessions and making do with just enough to be content; any surplus should be given away to those in greater need. Thus, in a society made up entirely of believers, no one would strive to be more prosperous than their neighbours and prosperity would, in fact, be shared.

This is not an argument against enterprise, but it is an argument against the idea that the driving force behind enterprise must always be personal gain. The Bible envisages a society in which people will find enterprising solutions to the world's problems not just to make themselves more prosperous but in order to benefit everyone.

There was an example of this on the radio last week. A man has invented a new and cheaper way of purifying water, so that it is safe to drink after a natural disaster or in a war zone. He didn't want to make a huge profit from his invention, he explained. It's already much cheaper than alternative ways of providing pure water to drink in disaster zones but, so long as he could sell enough units to reduce the cost of production and recoup his original investment, he said that he would be happy to reduce the price still further.

He sounded genuine. But, if we're striving after a godly economy, there's an ever better way of doing enterprise. It's called 'social enterprise', where the rewards don't go to the individual entrepreneurs but are reinvested for the benefit of everyone, workers and clients alike. Of course, in a world like ours, where profit is king, it's not a very attractive way of doing business. Entrepreneurs find it hard to understand why they should make the effort of being enterprising unless they are going to benefit themselves.

That's the mindset of the rich man in Luke's story. He doesn't care about closing the gap between himself and the poor man at his gate. He's a devotee of the Prosperity Doctrine, by which I mean that the rich man thinks they have both got what they deserve. Until, that is, their roles are reversed and the gap separating them becomes a great chasm, with burning fire on the side where the rich man now finds himself. Then he wishes that he had listened to the teachings of the prophets about creating a more just society!

How can we close the gap between rich and poor today - in our world and, closer to home, in our city?

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