I’ve been thinking about John Wesley and how he is remembered as a faithful and “successful” evangelist of the 18th Century. In 1731 he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. In the first year his income was 30 pounds and he found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. The next year his income doubled but he held his expenses at the same level. Now he had 32 pounds to give away (a good yearly income). In the third year his income rose to 90 pounds and he gave away 62 pounds. Over the course of his life Wesley’s income grew as high as 1,400 pounds in a year, but he held his expenses steady around 30 pounds each year.
This caused so much confusion for the English Tax Commissioners that they investigated him in 1776. A man of his income would at least own silver dishes. Surely was avoiding taxation. In response he wrote, “I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.”
When he died in 1791, at the age of 87, the only money mentioned in his will was the coins in his pockets and atop his dresser. Most of the 30,000 pounds he earned over the course of his life had been given away. No wonder Wesley had convictions about generosity and wealth:
“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it – and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”
But this is about more than giving money away. It’s about being present with those considered lesser, poor, displaced, or marginalized. It is about giving one’s whole life, because that is what God does for us.