March 5, 2010

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Make the choice to redistribute your wealth

David SilerVery few statements made in the United States these days about the topic referenced in the headline of this column can invoke an angrier outcry.

When we hear talk of the redistribution of wealth, we summon images of communist China, Cuba or Vietnam. It doesn’t take a degree in history or sociology to understand that these models of organizing a government and a country do not lead to the utopian society that they claim to create—in fact, quite the opposite is reality.

In our own country, we have come to understand that personal freedom is the fuel that makes an economy flourish. I believe that this is where the outcries begin.

It is not that we Americans are selfish and uninterested in sharing our wealth with others; it is just that we would prefer to make these decisions on our own. We do not want the government or anyone else telling us what to do with our money or any of our other resources, for that matter.

When the world witnessed the tragic consequences of the earthquake in Haiti, we witnessed perhaps the most massive redistribution of wealth that the world has ever seen. Billions of dollars have been redirected from all parts of the world to help with the recovery and the impending rebuilding of this impoverished island nation.

We saw a similar redistribution of wealth following Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami and, very close to home, the flooding in south-central Indiana during the summer of 2008.

I am quite sure that during these and other similar catastrophes that no one printed new money to be sent to the suffering communities. It is remarkable that even in times of major economic crisis—as during the earthquake in Haiti—money somehow surfaces to provide the necessary aid. Where were these billions of dollars before the tragedy?

In a way, these catastrophes and the world’s responses make clear the point that there is enough money and resources to go around—we just need to see the need and be given the chance to respond.

We can all recall the story told in Scripture of the rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter into the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus tells him that he must sell all that he has and give the money to the poor, the man goes away weeping, knowing that this is a price he is unwilling to pay (Mt 19:16-22).

Jesus asked him to redistribute his wealth. Surely, Jesus knew the man’s heart and knew that this was what he needed to hear, but I wonder what the man’s response would have been if Jesus made him aware of the suffering of others in his community. Perhaps the man would have been delighted by the opportunity to share his wealth with the suffering.

In this Bible story, I think Jesus reminds us that what we gain in this life—even if through our own hard work, intelligence and ingenuity—is really not ours because everything we have comes from and ultimately belongs to God. And sometimes God asks for some or all of it for a purpose other than our own.

Right now, no one is telling you how to distribute your wealth. Is God?

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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