Poverty Is A Christian Value?
Discussion thought of the day:
25 ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? 27 Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? 28 And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; 29 yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these. 30 Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? 31 So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” 32 It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33 Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.‘ Matthew 6:25-34 (NJB)
“Yes. poverty is a Christian value. The poor person is someone who knows that, by himself, he cannot live. He needs God and other people in order to be, flourish and grow. On the contrary, rich people expect nothing of anyone. They can provide for their needs without calling on their neighbors or on God. In this sense, wealth can lead to great sadness and true human loneliness or to terrible spiritual poverty. If in order to eat and care for himself, a man must turn to someone else, this necessarily results in a great enlargement of his heart. This is why the poor are closest to God and life in great solidarity with one another.; they draw from this divine source the ability to be attentive to others.” God or Nothing, Robert Cardinal Sarah p.140
In the reading in blue came from another source, rather than a priest who grew up in true poverty, I would be more likely to dismiss the words as naivete, or as some idyllic rationalization. But they come from one who was poor, who ministered among the poorest of the poor.
One of the reasons I will struggle with this for a while is because it is written by one who has been there, seen it, ministered among it.
I want to justify this, to spin it, to remind the writer that money isn’t the root of all evil, but that the love of money is. Another way to confront the writer is to compare my wealth to those around me, and claim that I am relatively impoverished. After all, I don’t own my home, and the last time the place we rent remodeled was when Kennedy was president. And my salary is not what it could be by the standards my denomination set.
Compared to 95 percent of the world, we are, in fact wealthy. Maybe even 98% of the world.
Cardinal Sarah points out the real issue. The issue is not wealth, but how wealth adds to the problem of independence, of self-reliance. Wealth destroys the independence of a community. It is easier to forget the needs of others, when we do not have need, or have not faced it. It is easier to write off what happens outside our walls, like the Rich man and Lazarus. Like the Rich man we don’t have an appreciation what he is going through, and the value of the soul and mind of the impoverished.
If poverty is to be considered a virtue, a way to grow in faith, then we begin to see self-reliance as the real problem, the real sin. Or should I say, the illusion of self-reliance? Because poverty normally is thought of as financial, but the other poverties, spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, relational poverty – they all lead to brokenness, to a solitary existence that is contrary to who are made to be.
Here it is, blunt and to the point. We were created with one mission, one purpose. To love, to love God with everything we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To have intimate relationships (not physically intimate – but spiritually and emotionally intimate) is the concept. It is in such relationships that we see the fruit of the Spirit grow, it is in such relationships where we can depend upon others and are depended upon by others., that the faith, hope and love the Holy Spirit nourishes in us matters, and is treasured.
Do I have to give up my wealth? Do I have to be like St Francis of Assissi or Luther (giving up law practice) or a Mother Theresa?
Honestly, I do not know. There is a harder option, which is to ensure the things that I own don’t become treasures. The treasures I have are found delivered by the means of Grace. First, the audacious love and mercy of God, and secondly the community of faith and those who will be part of it, delivered through word and sacrament with us. Those are our true riches.
May the Lord’s Mercy remind us of this, and may that reminder bring us to love one another.