Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and Joy. Amen.
It is a common reaction for Americans serving the poor to share about their experience with things like, “We are so blessed,” and of third world poverty, “Even though they have nothing, they seemed so happy.” We develop a theology about God that lacks confluence, or the merging of those kinds of phrases with what they actually imply. “We are so blessed,” often implies that those who have little are not blessed. Closer inspection of the way we use these “blessings” of material wealth primarily for ourselves reveals a theology of hard work and luck (I earned this life for myself and I’m lucky it hasn’t been taken from me). But Jesus never taught, “Blessed are the high-end grocery shoppers, for they shall never lack gourmet cuisine.” Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
The reality of our world is that we are born into economic disparity, and the social structures in place create a tremendous up-hill battle for the poor. Those with privilege who realize and care about this disparity often toss up our hands, overwhelmed by how impossible it seems to actually make a difference. The problems are just too big, and we are too comfortable with our lifestyle to anything meaningful.
Basil the Great took seriously the command of Christ to “sell your possessions and give to those in need.” He challenged our normal objections to these words, reminding us the logic of our wealth. If you think everything you have you earned for yourself, you are an atheist, unwilling to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from God. If you recognize you have nothing that you have not received from God, you must give an account for why God gave you so much and others so little. “Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally?” Basil uses confluence to merge the reality of economic disparity with belief in a just and loving God. Life is the way it is because God intends for you with wealth to share with you who have none. Basil taught that the wealthy claiming their wealth as their own is like someone calling fives on a seat at a theater…you are taking public property and saying it belongs to you, getting mad when someone else takes the seat. In other words, everything you have beyond what you need for basic survival belongs to those who don’t have enough for their own basic survival. Because it belongs to them, you are robbing from them by keeping it for yourself, you greedy cheater-pants.
In the Wesleyan tradition, we teach that we experience the grace of God as we practice works of mercy. As we give generously to those in need, the lines get blurred between who is being served. Giving away from your stores begins to set you free from the trap of your possessions. Meeting the people who struggle to survive, learning to love them, transforms our hearts more and more to see Christ in everyone, enlarging our hearts for peace with justice on this earth.
P.S. For those of us who wish we could do something but are stymied by how big the problems seem, feminist activist Courtney Martin wrote a book called “Do It Anyway.” If you don’t have time to read the book, read the author’s summary of it at this link.