There’s an old fable about a miserable rich man who went to visit a rabbi. The rabbi took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. "Look out there," he said. The rich man looked into the street. "What do you see?" asked the rabbi. "I see men, women, and children," answered the rich man.
Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. "Now what do you see?" "Now I see myself," the rich man replied.
Then the rabbi said, "Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver representing wealth, and no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, but you see only yourself.
In this simple little story is a profound truth: the more wealth one accumulates, the more one tends to focus on his or her self; and conversely, the less he or she tends to focus on others.
In fact, studies have been done which tend to indicate this. In an intriguing article titled “The Money-Empathy Gap”, published by Lisa Miller in New York Magazine on July 9, 2012”, one can read how researchers studied the effects of success and/or a lack thereof on two players in a simple game of Monopoly:
In a windowless room on the University of California, Berkeley, campus, two undergrads are playing a Monopoly game that one of them has no chance of winning. A team of psychologists has rigged it so that skill, brains, savvy, and luck—those ingredients that ineffably combine to create success in games as in life—have been made immaterial. Here, the only thing that matters is money.
One of the players, a brown-haired guy in a striped T-shirt, has been made “rich.” He got $2,000 from the Monopoly bank at the start of the game and receives $200 each time he passes Go. The
second player, a chubby young man in glasses, is comparatively impoverished. He was given $1,000 at the start and collects $100 for passing Go.
T-Shirt can roll two dice, but Glasses can only roll one, limiting how fast he can advance. The students play for fifteen minutes under the watchful eye of two video cameras, while down the hall in another windowless room, the researchers huddle around a computer screen, later recording in a giant spreadsheet the subjects’ every facial twitch and hand gesture.
T-Shirt isn’t just winning; he’s crushing Glasses. Initially, he reacted to the inequality between him and his opponent with a series of smirks, an acknowledgment, perhaps, of the inherent awkwardness of the situation. “Hey,” his expression seemed to say, “this is weird and unfair, but whatever.” Soon, though, as he whizzes around the board, purchasing properties and collecting rent, whatever discomfort he feels seems to dissipate.
He’s a skinny kid, but he balloons in size, spreading his limbs toward the far ends of the table. He smacks his playing piece (in the experiment, the wealthy player gets the Rolls-Royce) as he makes the circuit—smack, smack, smack—ending his turns with a board-shuddering bang!
Four minutes in, he picks up Glasses’ piece, the little elf shoe, and moves it for him. As the game nears its finish, T-Shirt moves his Rolls faster. The taunting is over now: He’s all efficiency. He refuses to meet Glasses’ gaze. His expression is stone cold as he takes the loser’s cash.
What can Christians learn from this? Just a little reminder that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming that wealth somehow provides significance and/or esteem.
If you have fallen prey to that notion (or if you are about to), then consider well the words of our Lord and Savior in Luke 12:15: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."
Verses 16-21 continue Jesus’ train of thought: And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Ouch! Oh well, the truth hurts; does it not? Besides, anyone who has ever played and won a game of Monopoly knows one thing for sure. When the game is over, everything is invariably boxed up and put away. No matter how much you win, you cannot take it to the store and spend it! It only has perceived value for a very short time, and even that is only within a very specific context.
In truth, when the game is over, even if you win, you still have nothing more than you did when the game began. And is that really anything to be proud of?
Such will be exactly the case for all material accumulation when the next life unfolds! Earthly riches have no value in Heaven! Little wonder then that Jesus admonishes us to store up our treasures there rather than here!
SOURCES: Lisa Miller’s article can be found online at: http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/.
Scientific American published a similar article by Daisy Grewal, dated Apr 10, 2012, that is titled “How Wealth Reduces Compassion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline.” It can also be found online. Check it out at this site: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/.
NOTE: Rev. Dow’s web site is: http://www.palmerwesleyan.org.