To Whom Much Is Given


This thought has been communicated in different ways by different people at different times throughout history. Eleven days before his inauguration in January 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy addressed the legislature of his home state of Massachusetts, telling them, “To those whom much is given, much is required.”

In the midst of the post-World War II economic boom, Kennedy was casting a theme that would become a constant emphasis of his short administration. He wanted the American people to know that our nation’s unprecedented (at that point) prosperity was not something to take lightly. Our vast national resources gave us an opportunity to make some things right in our country and to help the less fortunate among us in ways we had never been able to do prior to Kennedy’s presidency.

That was not the only time, however, that this sentiment would be conveyed in a moving speech by a great American leader. Several years before Kennedy made his forward-looking speech, Douglas MacArthur said, “For those to whom much is given, much is required. It is not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up. There is no substitute for victory.”

The United States had paid a high price in blood and treasure during World War II, many of those sacrifices being made under the watchful eye of General MacArthur. This senior statesman, therefore, wanted the American people to know that sacrifice was not only necessary in time of war; responsibility and sacrifice are qualities that are always required of those who will do right in the face of great challenges.

But two millennia before either of these men made their moving speeches, Jesus of Nazareth said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Jesus was actually the originator of this thought, at least in the form that we know it.

But regardless of how it is expressed, the thought is clear and it is timeless: Those entrusted with great talents, those entrusted with great resources, those entrusted with time, and those entrusted with opportunity will be expected by others and by themselves to give more, to do more, and to accept responsibility for more in this world than those who have very little. It just makes sense, and our own hearts tell us that it is true.

Unfortunately, we now live in a time when our society is often fixated on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. Ironically, the United States (and the entire Western world by extension) is even more prosperous now than it was during those years that produced MacArthur and Kennedy. Our nation has more and our nation produces more—on the collective level and the personal level—than we have ever had in our history. In fact, the Unites States is now the richets nation that has ever existed in all of human history, and we are living in the most prosperous era in this wealthy nation’s history.

But you would never know that if you only listened to the pundits on television and the various merchants of discontentment who teach us that we are all “victims” of some sort and that we have been taken advantage of by those people who have more things than we have. In today’s America, a large number of us are complainers, whiners, and malcontents who have been taught from birth to look at what we don’t have instead of what we do have. We have been taught since childhood that those people “over there” have more than us, and they have more than us because they have taken from us what is rightly ours. We have “rights,” you know.

But not only do we believe this myth; we actually build our personal lives around this false doctrine. We embrace the belief that we have been victimized and then we congregate with other like-minded people who reinforce our self-centered beliefs and expunge from their social circles anyone who does not pledge allegiance to this erroneous and destructive belief. So eventually, we surround ourselves with lots of other people who see life through the same dark lens that we see it, and we altogether become blind to the reality that the average middle-income American of this generation has more wealth and more opportunity than a king would have had in Jesus’ day.

Speaking of Jesus, it’s interesting to note the people he was talking to when he originally gave birth to these words. Words only have meaning in context, so it would do all of us good to ponder the context in which Jesus originally made this statement. Jesus spoke these words to a group of twelve men who would become some of the most oppressed people in the world. These men would be asked to give up their professions, to give up their possessions, to give up their personal rights, to leave their families and their homes, and even to give up their lives for the higher calling that was upon their lives (ten of them would die martyrs’ deaths). And these twelve men were citizens in a country that was occupied by foreign invaders, a country where most people meager earnings were quickly snatched up to feed the sprawling beast of the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus wanted these men to realize that they had more than they knew they had. They had more than “enough.” They had blessings—both spiritual and material blessings—to share with others.

The longer I live and the more I work with the homeless and the poor, the more I realize that the unhappiest people I know are the people who are always looking at life from the perspective of what they want or what they think they need. The most miserable people I know are the people who always see what they don’t have instead of what they do have. But the happiest people I know and the most fulfilled people are those who have finally figured out what life is really all about, and it’s not about “you.” It’s about others. To serve others, to help others, to give to those in need, and to expend your life, your talents, and your treasures for the benefit of those who are incapable of helping themselves is the richest lifestyle that any human being could ever live, especially human beings who dwell in the richest nation on earth.

So let me encourage you to reject the conventional wisdom of this age. Let me encourage you to stop looking at yourself as a victim and to stop looking at yourself as a member of some oppressed class of people. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female; it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old; it doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, brown, or yellow. You have all that you need. In fact, you have more than you need in every category of measurement. Get off the bandwagon of self-pity and anger. Stop comparing yourself to others, and stop comparing your assets to the assets of others. Realize just how fortunate and how “rich” you truly are, and dedicate your life to a purpose that will give you contentment rather than discontentment and happiness rather than rage.  You have been given much. Therefore, much is required of you.

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