If everyone in the world owned 4.2 acres of land, the common good would be equitably distributed. This is based on the current world population and the available arable land in the world. In this arrangement everyone could be equitably provided for; all needs could be met. This is one way of approaching the Christian meaning of poverty: providing for the needs of all by utilizing the available resources.
There is a possibility, however, that not everyone would be happy with this formula. While those currently “without” life’s necessities might find it the answer to life’s problems, those currently possessing more than 4.2 acres, or their equivalent, might find it constricting and oppressive of their right, or at least their capacity, to strive for more. There is a conflict here between the equality factor (“all equal”) and the freedom factor (the inner drive to do more than the average).
When Jesus proclaims the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5.3) is He promoting the 4.2 acres per person approach to poverty as an ideal (equality for all), or does He have something else in mind, that would be compatible with the drive for freedom that is inherent in all of us (because God made us that way)?
He is undoubtedly speaking spiritually, not economically. He is appealing to the inner desire of the human heart to be “free” in the sense of disentangled from a host of worries and concerns tied up with money, possessions, assets, and various forms of wealth that can prove overwhelming and totally consuming, leaving no time for anything else. He wants our total and undivided attention, and when we don’t have the time or opportunity to provide Him that, He is not happy with our situation.
We note that, while the 4.2 approach to meeting the necessities of life probably leaves us largely free and unfettered so as to attend to God in good measure, it may not satisfy our insatiable urge to go beyond, to improve, on what we currently have. Is it possible to have 6.2 acres and still give God His due? Or 10 acres, or 100, or 1000, and so on? The answer is: maybe, if we still have time and opportunity to give God His due.
With one other qualification: if my freedom and urge to possess more, comes at the expense of the well-being of another, then there is a problem, if “expense” means “harm or detriment” to another. If someone is satisfied with his 4.2 acres, which enable him/her to meet his needs and those of his family, all is well and good. But if the growing accumulation of wealth on the part of others works to the detriment of my well-being and that of others, then growth in the wealth of some becomes harmful, and is incompatible with the kind of poverty Jesus addresses.
So while we should take care not to criticize those who have a drive to increase their wealth, and to exercise their skill and ingenuity in doing so, neither should we criticize those who lack that drive but are content with what they have: the 4.2 acres. This does not make them lazy, or a drag on the economy, to the injury of others, if they are able to meet their needs. After all, Jesus both enjoyed the company of the well-to-do and accepted their hospitality, just as He accepted the support offered Him by others (often women) as He travelled the length and breadth of Israel.
But one other concern to be addressed: both groups must make their contribution to society, to its well-being and betterment: not in the same way, nor to the same degree, but rather to the extent of their capability of doing so.
The bottom line is that the upper 1% or the lower 1% are both free to do what they wish, provided it harms no one else, and leaves them both time and opportunity to think of God, to pray to Him and to give Him “His due”. That is the poverty of spirit Jesus presents. It is a beautiful ideal, if we do not get out of line.
We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.