Today I came across an interesting article in The Guardian. The article claimed that Bill Gates is the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States. Another article corroborated the claim but added that some of this land is used for growing potatoes, and the potato fields are so vast they can be seen from space. What does Bill Gates, who made his fortune selling computers, need 242,000 acres of farmland for? The answer, according to Gates, is simple; his “investment group” made the decision. Gates acquisition, to put it in context, is just smaller than the city of Hong Kong.
Gates is just one example of the few owning a huge amount in comparison to the many. The inequality of wealth is a huge discussion, much larger than one bulletin article could engage with. But there are some pointers to help us think biblically about the issue. Firstly it’s worth considering Proverbs 11:26, “People curse the one who hoards grain, but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.” Throughout the book of Proverbs, earning wealth (whether it be land, livestock or money) is admirable, but only to a point. In this proverb the author is clear that a community will rightly hate someone who hoards their wealth, but will praise the rich person who uses it to help others. There are numerous examples of this, most notably Joseph’s policy for Egypt; to hoard grain in order to help the world during the promised famine. Jesus makes a similar point in Luke 12:13-21. When answering a man who is demanding an inheritance be split equally between himself and his brother, Jesus gives them a parable. In this parable Jesus describes a man like the farmer in Proverbs 11:26, someone who hoards his wealth. The tragedy comes when the rich man dies and so his efforts come to nothing, he hadn’t chosen to sell any of his produce to the community. He only served himself. It’s interesting that his wealth isn’t the issue, but how he chose to use it.
There’s a lesson here for Gates, and for us. Gates’ acquisition of land will be, in part, proven to be a good thing depending on who he uses it for, and the same goes for us. We can be useful to our community or harm it. We can use our wealth for ourselves, or for God. We can be poor towards God or “rich towards God” (Luke 12:21). We may not have much wealth, but we each have gifts we can choose to bless others with. If we make our interests the same as God’s we can avoid getting caught in the trap of searching for life in an “abundance of possessions.”