“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Isaiah 40:4
The fellowship of the early Church were socialists, if not communists, and for some reason the modern Church finds this shocking or even scandalous. But community, sharing, making the playing field level has always been at the heart of any genuine living out of the Christian faith. Jesus told us to love God, despise money and to store up our treasure in heaven rather than on earth. He counselled the rich young ruler to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor. Jesus was, we cannot deny, pretty radical when it came to money.
There is something about being poor that is deeply of God. Perhaps when we align ourselves with the lowest of the low and with the powerless, we are emulating what Christ did when he “made himself nothing” in becoming human, and “humbled himself” (Philippians 2) in dying for his creation. God chose Mary, an unknown young woman from a backwater, to bear the Christ child. And still the song she sings showing her understanding of true justice and God’s upside-down kingdom echoes through the ages:
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:52-53
Poverty is not just a lack of money of course, but of power and of access to power. On the UN’s website (www.un.org), Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon explains that poverty “..is manifested in restricted access to health, education and other essential services and, too often, by the denial or abuse of other fundamental human rights..” Poverty is not only being poor, but often being stuck in that world of doing without, becoming poorer, sicker, less and less able to do anything about your situation. Even in the west, where most have enough to eat and access to clean water, there is still a huge amount of poverty. And it is here too, a horrible vicious circle of credit and debt and being uninsured, unsafe, unprotected. To be poor is to be vulnerable and to have no way out.
My husband has been out of work for two years now since a breakdown exacerbated his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to a place of serious disability. With both of us unable to work, it has been a long, difficult time of form-filling, red-tape twisting and hurdle jumping that would have made Kafka weep. Whilst grateful there are benefit systems in place, we’ve also had to rely on family for some things, and on the goodness of God to a degree that has crushed my husband’s faith and tested mine. Our case is nevertheless mild compared to those of many people. I have every sympathy with those having to use foodbanks and rely on aid, whichever country they live in. Rare are the people who choose poverty, like St Francis notably did. Most of us have it thrust upon us, and even in a developed country, it is not fun.
But God has been there for us and with us many times. In a former period of hardship, a friend’s unexpected help to clear debt is a powerful case in point. This friend (whom I have never met) told me that it was God’s money and it made no difference who was using it. That is the Christian faith, right there. That is a holy attitude to money that took my breath away, and a lot of my worries with it. I know I need to mature a lot more before I am capable of such wisdom. What a different world it would be, if we could all live with such generous and biblical understanding of what it means to be there for one another. It’s not about counting the cost, it’s not about tithing, it is about acting when there is a need, even pre-empting that need.
We all know that there is enough bounty on the earth to feed us all. There is enough land, enough water. One reason Jesus told us not to stockpile it was for the good of everyone. Sharing isn’t something we should just teach our children to do with their toys, this is something the Church needs to model at every possible level.
Supposing this was an attitude that then broke out into our communities, our governments, our aid packages, our planning for infrastructure and trade agreements? Then perhaps, we might be helping to teach society the way forward into God’s holy plan to level out the land so that everyone is spared the pain, suffering, humiliation and distress that poverty brings. And maybe we need to do that from a place of choosing to come alongside the poor, and working for true justice, till it rolls down in rivers.
This post is part of the October theme Living Into the Shalom of God.