Twenty Sheep Too Many

“It is wrong that Bill Gates has all those billions of dollars!” said *Francisco, a friend of mine from Bolivia. We were in the midst of a discussion on economics. He continued, “The government should take some of it away from him.” I asked why and he responded with, “It is too much. No one should have that much money!”

Some weeks later I was sitting with Edgar and we were talking about life in the Andes. He said, “There is a lot of robbery in Peru. In Peru a man who works hard, and doesn’t sell sheep to buy beer for fiestas, will have money to increase his flock until one day he has twenty sheep. His neighbor, with five sheep, tells him to sell a ewe, buy beer and come to a fiesta but the frugal neighbor with the large flock politely refuses. This continues until one day the man with five sheep says to himself, “Why does he have twenty sheep and I only have five?” He then finds some friends and at night they steal some of the sheep from his frugal neighbor. He may also go to the police and accuse his frugal neighbor of stealing sheep. The police will arrest the man and by the time he pays lawyers and court costs he will have been forced to sell many of his sheep.” Apparently once the poor man had “leveled the playing field” he was content or at least drunk.

These two conversations are talking about the same thing, what do we do when someone has too much? Somewhere between five sheep and eighty-one billion dollars there is a line in the sand that should not be crossed and if it is then someone must do something about it. Really? When I mentioned my conversation with *Francisco to some American friends their response was, “But doesn’t he know about all the charitable work Bill Gates does?” This argument actually agrees with *Francisco but provides an exception if the better off person is voluntarily generous. My question is, “And if he isn’t?” The exception for charitableness is basically in agreement with *Francisco and the thief with five sheep. There is a core problem with the view held by my brother *Francisco and the thieving Peruvian which is not addressed by an exception for charitable giving, that is these views do not start with charity.

In Leviticus 19:18 the LORD tells us, “ shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This command is the summation of a series of requirements before it. The farmer and the vineyard man were to be a little sloppy in their harvesting so that some would be left behind for the poor. On the other hand thievery, robbery, slander and injustice in court are absolutely prohibited. Now just in case someone might say this applies only among the Israelites we must remember how God interprets neighbor; see Good Samaritan Luke 10:29 and Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:43-48. If I start with loving my neighbor as myself I stop begrudging his good fortune and bewailing my difficulties.

The problem with lines in the sand is that we erase them and redraw them according to our fallen standards. I cannot say when God has given too much to someone and not enough to someone else. The day that I can make the sunrise and set I might think about it. Thankfully that day will never come. May I love my neighbor as myself and not keep count of his flock.

P.S. A good friend of mine from Lima once laughed when I suggested that the Linux OS is a good option for the poor in Peru. I asked why he laughed, he replied “Windows only costs $5 in Peru!”

*not his real name