In response to last week’s blog, Rhonda posed this exhilarating challenge: “Now that we acknowledge the unfair advantages we get from being white, able-bodied, straight, reasonably well-off, etc. what are we going to do about it?”
It’s not as if I haven’t thought about this question a thousand times before – ever since I realized that when Jesus talked about “you rich,” he meant me. But after 30 years’ work in the non-profit sector, I am re-thinking all my answers, and going back to square one.
Square one, for me, is the example of Jesus. This week, I looked afresh at the gospels to find out how his life spoke to Rhonda’s, and my, question.
Jesus did not talk so much about “the poor,” — much less than some of the Old Testament authors. Maybe that’s because Jesus was poor. I am not sure which social class carpenters belonged to in first century Galilee. Did they have the status that mechanics or construction workers have in our day? Or were they more like small business owners? I do know that in our society at least, there are few sharper social divisions than the one between working and small business people and those who, like Jesus, have “no place to lay [their] heads” and depend on others to pay their way.
Jesus does not comment on his own poverty, either to bemoan his position or brag about it. My own guess is that he didn’t choose poverty for its own sake. He simply found that his carpentry job got in the way of his real work. In any case, he advises his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus’ friends were poor — and rich too. He seemed at his ease whether commandeering hospitality from the wealthy and unscrupulous Zacheus or sleeping rough. He told his followers to copy his example. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor . . . and you will be blessed.”
I find Jesus’ example hard to follow, even though I want to. Breaking class barriers is a prickly business. As with all cross-cultural relationships, there are so many opportunities for misconstrued motives, misunderstandings and hurt on all sides. There have been times I have come away from such friendships feeling judged, taken advantage of, or abandoned. I suspect the other person feels just the same. But when these cross-class friendships work they are indeed a blessing. They lift me out of my self, and open a window on something entirely new.
Third, Jesus blessed the poor. I really have no idea what this means. When I search for clues about what it means to bless others, I look to what blesses me. I think it comes down to such simple things as, “I feel blessed when other people like me. And I feel blessed when people are excited by the same things as I am.” And we’re right back to friendship again.
Finally, Jesus named his mission as “bringing good news to the poor.” He himself was the good news. He also announced the good news – that the Kingdom of God was at hand, right here and now — not in some pie-in-the-sky way.
For me, the Kingdom of God means all good things. But at the moment, I’m savouring Deuteronomy 15. Nestled among a series of instructions about tithing, canceling debts, freeing slaves and being generous to the poor, it says matter-of-factly, “However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you are careful to follow all these commandments.”
Friends, where do you see the best hopes of “no poor among us,” where there is no such thing as “the poor” — either socially, because the traditional class divisions don’t matter any more, or economically, because there’s plenty to go round if we simply act justly?