The movie, "All the Money in the World," hit the big screen this past year. It tells of the kidnapping of J.Paul Getty's 16-year-old grandson, John Paul Getty III in 1973, and the refusal of the billionaire industrialist grandfather to pay the ransom cash.
While I did not see the movie, I had to read up on the life of J. Paul Getty to get a sense of how a grandfather would not do everything he could to save his grandson. As I read an article about Getty, it became clear to me that he was never going to have everything he wanted- fame, fortune, family. In fact, if you look at his checkered past, he was about one thing- J. Paul Getty.
If one were to use a phrase to describe his upbringing, it would not be "He came from a place of humble beginnings." In fact, Getty, born on Dec. 15, 1892, was a boy of privilege, who never took his eye off the prize of "being even more privileged." Getty was a gifted student who went in California, as went to prestigious school and universities. He graduated in 1914, focusing on economics and petroleum geology.
Starting out, J.Paul's father loaned him money to buy up some oil leases. By 1916, J.Paul earned his first million ($22 + million by today's standards).
Extreme workaholic...five wives...lavish lifestyle...man with the golden touch...always wanted more...
J. Paul spent little time with his family, routinely putting in 18-hour days- including weekends. While he was able to garner more fortune (even during the Depression) and fame, it destroyed his relationships with wife after wife and with his children and grandchildren.
It has been said that Getty complained incessantly about the hardships of being a billionaire, from the begging letters to the fact he never knew if friends were genuine or simply after his money. An ex-employee once said J. Paul always looked like he was attending his own funeral. Yet he continued to buy more oil fields, more businesses, make billions of more dollars all the while becoming more distant from friends and family.
In June 1973, when his grandson was kidnapped, it is reported that Getty refused to pay saying, "I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren." The ransom payment was the equivalent of just one day's output from J. Paul's oil fields. Running out of patience, the kidnappers cut off the boy's ear and sent it, along with a lock of his hair, to an Italian newspaper in November 1973. J. Paul finally agreed to pay part of a reduced ransom of $2.9 million, $16 million in today's money, and lent his son John Paul Getty Jr. the rest of the cash to be paid back with interest.
Why do I tell you this story? After all, none of us are as wealthy as Getty. I believe most of us have a deeper sense of purpose than fame, fortune, and the search for "all the money we can get our hands on." However, the issue with Getty, and us, is how do we approach what we do have? Are the gifts from God- resources, family, friends- just a means to fulfill our feelings of "scarcity" in the midst of "abundance?" How much is enough? Let's face it, "all the money in the world" will not buy us that covenantal relationship with God, ourselves, and others The same is true for billionaires, church folk, and churches.... Where you treasure is...there your heart will be also."
This Sunday, we will be collecting our Pledge Commitments for the upcoming fiscal year. May they reflect our covenantal relationship with God and the mission and vision God has called us to at this time and place. May they show a joy for the abundance God has most graciously given to us instead of a place of scarcity.