When Jesus told his apostles that the poor will always be with us, we never predicted that we might one day be numbered among them. But here we are, 20 centuries later, in the midst of a global recession.
I get the impression that most people are treating the recession like a natural disaster. Since no one has been spared loss, we all seek solidarity by hunkering down and living within our means.
The female rector of a large Episcopal church in Maryland tells her congregation that this financial plague is a reminder that we are all still living in biblical times. She acknowledged that not many of her middle-class flock have lost their jobs as yet, but adds: “When that happens, those of us still working will have to share with the unemployed.”
The earliest Christians, we recall, organized themselves to help one another, laying their possessions at the feet of the apostles to be shared with those in greater need. Ever since then, charity has been the responsibility of every Christian.
Despite the growth of tax-supported service agencies, we Americans have never relied wholly on government assistance. Churches and other so-called “faith-based organizations” continue to dominate the world of charitable giving, sharing our private bounty with each other.
Those television evangelists who preach a gospel of worldly success and wealth conveniently avoid Jesus’ affirmation that it is the poor — not the privileged — whom God blesses.
Wealth can distract from life’s purpose, whereas the poor look to the lilies of the field and birds of the air as signs of God’s generosity.
Jesus identified himself with the poor. Born in a stable, he made common cause with them throughout his life. Jesus’ parents could afford only two turtledoves when they presented their infant son in the Temple in Jerusalem.
In early adulthood, he worked as a day laborer. He launched his ministry quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
The perennial good news, of course, is that God makes no distinction between rich and poor.
Traversing the countryside, Jesus was often homeless with nowhere to lay his head. “Though he was rich,” St. Paul later reminded the Corinthians, “yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8-9).
As the ditty complains, “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.” The gap between the rich and the poor has been widening for the last 30 years.
Families have been able to make ends meet only because more women work outside the home. The new recession has already stretched many budgets beyond family resources. If we are not yet poor, we are poorer.
The recession is an invitation to re-examine our blessings and to thank God for the simple gifts we do still enjoy.
David Yount’s latest book is Celebrating the Single Life: Keys to Successful Living on Your Own