US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Sell what you have and give the money to the poor--$1 billion at a time

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is perennially made uncomfortable by story of the rich young man in Matthew’s gospel (19:16-30). It’s a tricky message: We hear from Jesus that in addition to keeping all the usual commandments—don’t lie, or murder, or steal—we are supposed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But wait, there’s more! Jesus throws another curveball by telling the young man that in order to have eternal life, he must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.

I couldn’t help but think of this passage when I saw this New York Times profile of 81-year-old billionaire Charles Feeney, who is on a quest to get rid of his last $1.5 billion. That’s right—Feeney has apparently already given away his first $6 billion through Atlantic Philanthropies, providing grants all across America and throughout other countries like Ireland, South Africa, and Vietnam—and he wants to give the rest of it away, too!

This probably sounds crazy to a lot of people. But according to Feeney, “The world had enough urgent problems that required attention now, before they became even more expensive to solve.” Among the issues that Feeney’s money has gone to finance: health care reform, education, immigration reform, initiatives against the death penalty, and criminal justice advocacy.

Most of us probably couldn’t ever imagine even having $1.5 billion dollars. For many people, a living wage or enough money to keep food on the table or pay medical bills is still the dream. But how many of us, if we worked hard for it or stumbled across it, would feel compelled to do as Jesus instructed and give away a vast amount of wealth?

“When you’ve got the money, you spend it,” Feeney said in the article. “When you’ve spent it all, let someone else get going and spend theirs.”

Hopefully those who can will follow Feeney’s (and really, Jesus’) example by paying it forward.