Take Heed to Hetty and Spread the Wealth!

From Pastor Chris

When I was in grade school, one of my favorite books to mine for its oddities and curiosities was the Guinness Book of World Records. I cringed at the long, curly fingernails, marveled at the “time standing on one leg” record, and felt pity for the world’s tallest man, whose great height meant a short life.

But no figure in the Guinness Book captured my imagination more than Hetty Green, dubbed the “World’s Greatest Miser.” Green’s life is as fascinating as it is tragic (I will leave you to research all the details online). What stood out was her extreme and pernicious parsimony. She lived in run-down apartments and did her business out of a portable chest rather than renting office space. She only bought one dress at a time, washing only the dirty parts to save on soap. She lived with a hernia for 20 years because she was outraged at the $150 fee for a surgery. She scrimped on hygiene products and famously stank to high heavens. When her young son hurt his leg in an accident, she took him to a free clinic then refused to take him to other doctors when the wound did not heal. Within a few years it had to be amputated. Her final demise was hastened by a passionate, stroke-inducing debate with her friend’s cook over the merits of cooking with skim milk rather than whole.

All of this is so extraordinary because Hetty Green died as the wealthiest woman in America, perhaps in the world. In the year of her death, 1916, her estate was valued between $100 and $200 million. Today she would have been a billionaire. And she lived like a pauper.

This gives us much to consider as we turn the corner in our study of Ephesians. For three chapters we have delved into our riches in Christ, the spiritual wealth of a loving relationship with God. This cost our Father the life of his Son, evidence of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7). Now we turn the corner from reading the will and discovering our inheritance to learning how we are to generously give to others. More than 40 commands punctuate Ephesians 4-6, and they are all calls to share the spiritual wealth: offering forgiveness, sharing with those in need, using words to give life and encouragement, displaying undeserved kindness, submitting to authority, and nurturing a community of gratitude.

Ultimately, despite tight control and forced pre-nuptials with all family marriages, Hetty Green had no say in how her wealth was distributed. With no grandchildren in the picture, her daughter distributed her fortune to 64 charitable and educational institutions. But spiritual wealth doesn’t work that way. We either share it now or we do not share it at all. So as we move through our circles of the spiritually impoverished (whether they push a grocery cart or drive a Bentley), may our spiritual generosity reflect our vast inheritance of love, grace, kindness, and hope that flow from a reconciled relationship with our Father in heaven.

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