The Wealthiest Nation in Human History

That would be the United States. We surpassed any other nation/kingdom/empire in terms of wealth long ago.

What are we doing with it? We spend more and any other nation on military equipment designed to annihilate any perceived foreign threat that we come across.

But as a nation we refuse to spend money on things that would improve people’s lives or make life a bit easier for the people living here. They didn’t earn it after all is the usual statement. So why exactly have all this wealth if we aren’t going to use it for the benefit of the people? Why make people suffer?

I live in Cumberland County in Pennsylvania. It’s in the south central part of the state, near the capitol of Harrisburg. This is one of the fastest growing areas of Pennsylvania. There’s a variety of reasons for that. It’s a great place to live. It’s near several metropolitan areas (many within only 2-3 hours away). It’s a very steady area economically. The weather is very reasonable (rarely do we have a major environmental disaster). The people are pretty nice over all (but they have their quirks like anywhere else). You can get anything you need. And there’s some great outdoor areas all around.

These are some of what makes the area attractive. And people have been coming in droves. They come for work. They come for school. They come for retirement. They come as refugees. They come for a host of other reasons. And as a result, we have a huge housing issue.

In recent times, the cost of land and housing has skyrocketed. And there is a literal lack of housing to keep up with the increase in people coming. That means those that are wealthy, and can afford it, are paying for housing. But what about those the middle class and those in poverty? Good luck. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in homelessness. Here’s some stats from last week:

  • 288 households are literally homeless, representing approximately 484 people
  • 72 of the households have at least one child under 18
  • 93 are in shelter
  • 126 are unsheltered/in places not meant for human habitation
  • 64 are in other HUD-defined places that qualify them to be Category 1 homeless
  • 128 of the households are headed by a person with a disability
  • 33 of the households are chronically homeless
  • 12 are self-identified as veterans

Those 484 people fit the HUD definition of homelessness. That means there are plenty more folks who are homeless that don’t fit the definition. And there are more who have not been in touch with coordinated entry and so aren’t counted. Here’s another fun point – regardless of how accurate these numbers are or are not, this number represents something astounding – it’s the highest number of homeless in the county ever. That means we have a serious problem.

Looping back to the beginning point – we are the richest nation in human history. What are we doing with all that wealth? How are we helping our neighbors in need?

This Sunday, the lectionary readings for worship are all about money. In the Gospel, a guy comes to Jesus and demands that Jesus settle a financial dispute with the guy’s brother. Jesus tells a parable about the rich man who had much grain, so much so that he tears down his barns and builds new ones and tells himself that he can rest easy no and eat, drink, and be merry. And God demands his life that very day. In the parable, Jesus has the rich man say I, me, or my 11 times in just a few lines. There’s no reference to God, being grateful for the abundance, and certainly no concern for anyone else. It’s Luther’s definition of sin come to life (turning inward on oneself). Greed has the effect of blinding us from seeing the humanity of others.

Those 484 people are all human beings, with names, and stories. They have suffering. They have pain. Do we see and hear them, or are they just a number that can be ignored? How are we being followers of Jesus if we can dehumanize those that are suffering so that we aren’t inconvenienced by them, so that we don’t have to use the wealth that exists to help them? Are we more concerned with building bigger barns for our own stuff, rather than seeing anyone else around us?

Are we really the wealthiest nation in human history? I guess it depends on how you measure that. If it’s just numerical values associated with money – then I guess we are. But so what? To what purpose? To what end? Wealth isn’t about how much you can hoard. I think a wealth nation is one that cares about the people that live in it, uses its resources to improve their lives, and encourages empathy, compassion, and wellbeing. That’s a wealthy and healthy society.

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