The Desperation of Poverty, Part 3

Life Notes

 

The Desperation of Poverty, Part 3

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. Mark 14:7

I live a fortunate and blessed life. I have never had to worry about where my next meal would come from or whether I would have a roof over my head. I have always had people in my life who loved and valued me. I confess this so you know I do not write about poverty from first-hand experience. I have observed it from a distance on a few occasions – most recently in Honduras – but I have never lived in poverty, nor do I have a desire to do so. In Life Notes the past few weeks, I have written about the desperation I observed from the poverty in Honduras.

All four Gospels accounts have Jesus saying something to the effect that the poor will always be with us. Some use this to argue that there is nothing effective we can do to address poverty – and they may be right, at least on a global scale. I think, however, they miss the point. Certainly, poverty is a pervasive issue, but it is also an individual faith issue. Whenever we encounter poverty, suffering, or human struggles, we have decisions to make. Can I help this person or situation? If I can, am I willing to help this person or situation?

A third manifestation of the desperation of poverty is personal – it is my desperation to understand how I can best help. Many of us, me included, regularly walk past people asking for money on our streets. There are reasons why we do that, some of which have a measure of validity. If I give money to everyone who asks, how long will it be before I am on the streets begging for money? What if I give them money, and they buy drugs or alcohol with it? I work hard for my money, and they should, too. How do I really know these people are worse off than I am? These are pretentious questions, however, because in most cases we cannot know the answer. Again, we miss the point of being confronted by the poor. The point is how we decide to respond, and how we justify that choice. I am less convinced there is a right answer to the question and more convinced the poor pose a universal conundrum meant to illicit serious soul-searching on our parts – individually and collectively.

We are not called to solve world poverty. Indeed, the poor will always be with us. Jesus made clear by his examples, however, that we are to help. The fact that we cannot do everything does not negate the fact that we can do something. What we do and how we respond is the faith issue facing us. Some will respond with money, others with non-monetary gestures, others will feign ignorance. All of us make choices about our responses, however, and one day we may have to answer for those choices.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Do Not Steal

Do Not Steal

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13

The eighth of the Ten Commandments, like the sixth and seventh, is straightforward: Do not steal. The common interpretation is that we are not to take what belongs to someone else. While I do not deny it is wrong to steal from another, there are instances that give me pause. The first such instance occurs in a life-or-death situation, when taking something from someone else without his or her permission will help. For example, if my children were starving and I had no resources to acquire food for them, I would steal to preserve their lives. Although this is an unlikely situation, it is an example where I believe the circumstance warrants theft.

A more common, but related situation occurs when people are starving in other countries. Does their right to life override my right to decide the fate of that which I possess? If I have sufficient resources to end the starvation of another, is it stealing for someone to take those resources from me and give them to the other? Is it a form of theft for me to hoard resources well beyond my need when others are in desperate need of those same resources? These are difficult faith questions, and stealing is a faith issue. For the thief, taking what belongs to another shows a lack of faith that God will provide for his or her needs. However, I believe it is equally faithless for those with much not to share their abundance with those in need. Indeed, inspiring people to share is a basic way that God provides for the poor and needy. The faith issue for the richly blessed among us manifests in our decisions about sharing our gifts. If we are miserly in our giving to others, our faith is likely small.

Finally, the story of the moneychangers illustrates another interesting area of theft, one that sends Jesus into a rage in the Temple. The moneychangers and other vendors exchanged currencies and sold sacrificial animals for worshippers. The problem was that they marked their prices up so high they were essentially stealing from those who came to the Temple to worship. Jesus felt this was unacceptable and drove the moneychangers out. Imagine what Jesus would do when buying popcorn and a soft drink at a movie theater today. Our commandment not to steal goes beyond just taking something belonging to another. The commandment requires consideration about taking more than our share, as well as giving less than we can comfortably give.