There’s a story of a rich African father who decided to take his son to his African village to experience how poor people in his village lived. They traveled to the village and spent a day with a poor family. The following day, on their return home, the father asked the son a question.
“Son, how was the trip?” he asked.
To his surprise, the son responded, “It was great.”
The surprised father then asked, “What was great about it? What did you learn from it?” The father continued: “Did you see what they didn’t have in life? Did you see the way they were suffering?”
The son responded, “We have one dog; they have four. We have one pool, and they have a river. We have light at night, but they have the stars. We buy food, and they grow their own food. We have walls to protect us; they have friends. We have a television; they spend time with family and friends.”
The father’s reaction to the son’s response was one of incredulity. He was utterly speechless. Noticing the disbelief on the father’s face, the son said to the father, “Dad, thank you for showing me how poor we are.”
There’s a different kind of richness that cannot be substituted by material wealth, and we make a terrible mistake if we assume that being rich is all material. In my humble opinion, you must be a really poor person if you tend to think that everything is about you. You must be a really miserable person if all you have is centered around you. After all, we have been blessed to bless others. We have been blessed to change the lives of others. And we have been blessed in so many ways to be gracious to so many people.
The father thought he was so rich, but the son had to teach him how poor they truly were. But their poverty had nothing to do with material wealth; it was really about the effort that the father put into expressing whatever love that he had for his family and for others.
It isn’t your wealth that makes you rich; it is your respect for others, your ability to spend time with others, and the love you demonstrate to others that makes you so.
I often remind couples at weddings that love is the only commodity that both the rich and the poor have in equal amounts. It is the one commodity that the Slave and the free, the Black and White, the Gay and Straight, have in equal amounts. The truth, however, is that it may not matter how much you possess - what matters is how rich you see yourself.
There’s a story of a rich young man whom Jesus invited to sell all that he had, give the money to the poor, and come follow him. This young, rich man, upon hearing these words, turned round and went away. He simply couldn’t see himself in any other way than how he had come to look at himself - through the prism of his wealth.
One of the interesting aspects of Christmas, for me, is the extent to which it reminds me of the blessings of being rich. Many are those who travel far and near to spend time with family - that is being rich. Many are those who invite others into their homes to break bread with them - that is being rich. Many are those who take upon themselves the joy of making others happy during this joyful season - that is being rich. Many are those who choose to devote themselves to others, especially those who are lonely - that is being rich. Many are those who light up the world of others by making the Christmas story come alive for them - that is being rich. Many are those who create familial memories that last a lifetime - that is being rich.
Life has never been about little-to-no disagreements, squabbles, or even major conflicts between family and friends. Heaven knows there are many of us who are not on speaking terms with some family members and friends, and some simply don’t even want to see those people with whom they are in conflict.
But how rich can you be if you can’t see beyond the conflicts that dehumanize and tear us apart? How rich can you be if your world is determined by anger and disappointments?
I remember St. Paul’s sober words to the Church in Rome: If, at all possible, in so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Are you at peace with everyone?
How rich are you?
When I first relocated to Atlanta from Ghana, I met two priests: David Moss, and his wife, Denni Moss. Denni had just graduated from a seminary I had just enrolled in. Both David and Denni took a particular interest in me and my three roommates and invited us to their house for Christmas and Easter. They knew we had no family in Atlanta, and for them, the best they could do was to be rich towards us by inviting us into their home, spending time with us, and simply being with us - being family to us.
The Christmas question is, how rich are you? I believe that you are very rich. I believe you have the capacity in you to welcome, reach out, embrace, reconcile, tend, heal, renew, and give. I know you have it within you to be incredibly rich. I believe you have it within you to love unconditionally.
Rumi once wrote these words: They will ask you what you have produced. Say to them, except for love, what else can a lover produce?
And so, this Christmas, make it the best one yet. This Christmas, produce love. This Christmas, be rich.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.