Jesus once told the story of a poor man called Lazarus, who was lying outside the house of a wealthy man. Lazarus longed to eat something from the rich man’s table but he didn’t get anything. Dogs came and licked his sores, while the rich man dressed in linen and lived in luxury every day, ignorant of Lazarus’ suffering (Lk 16:19-21).
It is clear that Jesus is not describing the life of Lazarus and the life of the rich man as isolated events. The tragedy that Jesus points to is not just that the extremely poor suffer extremely much, but that some of them do so right in front of people who can stop their suffering. If the rich man could live in luxury every day, he clearly was able to provide Lazarus with food — or even better, a job.
Even if the rich man had helped other poor people already, even if he had created hundreds of jobs for others, he still had no excuse for ignoring Lazarus when he is right outside his gate. He had no excuse to abstain from helping this one beggar if he could afford to buy fine linen. Jesus made sure that His audience understood the immorality and greed of the rich man: when Lazarus dies, he goes to Abraham’s side, while the rich man goes to Hades (Lk 16:22-23).
People living in extreme poverty suffer greatly, even in our times. About 800 million people suffer from undernourishment. Every year, this leads to the death of three million children under the age of five. In fact, that corresponds to half of all deaths in children under five globally. Similarly, over 800 million people lack safe drinking water, and 2.3 billion people — one third of the global population — lack access to a toilet. Water-related diseases affect more than 1.5 billion people every year, and kill over one million every year. Every minute a newborn child dies because of lack of clean water.
These people do not lack proper food and water because there isn’t enough food and water in the world. Even though these resources do get scarcer as the global population grows and as consumption of resource-heavy products, such as meat (which requires an abundance of crops and water), increases, there is absolutely plenty of food and water in the world.
The main cause of their misery is poverty. They can’t afford good food and fresh water, and their governments, friends, or churches do not provide it for them. 98 percent of all who suffer from undernourishment live in the majority world, which generally is much poorer than countries with predominantly white populations.
At the same time, the richest one percent of the world’s population have twice as much money than 6.9 billion people. If everybody lived like the average American, we would need four planets. The Western lifestyle might look “normal” to Westeners but is actually quite extreme both historically and globally.
The book of Proverbs gives us a wise advice: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Prov 30:8-9). This middle ground between wealth and poverty, where you get what you need but don't live in affluence and luxury, is what the Bible promotes.
This is the same level of sustenance that Paul talks about in 1 Tim 6:8 when arguing that we should be content with food and clothing and what Luke refers to when describing how everyone’s needs were met in the apostolic church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:45, 4:35).
Instead of trying to be as rich as possible, storing superfluities, and neglecting aid opportunities, we should seek to live simply and generously, promoting economic equality and sustainability.
Micael Grenholm is the editor-in-chief for Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice and pastor of Mosaik Church in Uppsala, Sweden.