Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Poverty & Greed

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." - Mark 12:41-44
3 December 2012: Almost time for children to learn a valuable life lesson. Santa loves rich kids more. - GS Elevator Gossip (Twitter)
The U.S. Catholic bishops declared January to be Poverty Awareness Month. In that spirit, two recent articles from the Los Angeles Times are instructive. Last week, we were introduced to Shahbaz and Shahzad, two children who, along with their parents and millions of other Pakistanis, are indentured servants. They are forced to accept loans from their employers to survive, but are not paid enough for their work to be able to repay them. The family debt, currently a mere $200, is the only inheritance Shahbaz and Shahzad are likely to receive. On a brighter note, luxury house flipping made the front page on the day after Thanksgiving. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

We are a nation in love with greed. In a commentary on the Gospel passage above, Professor Beth Haile wrote about a class discussion on tithing. One student said “If Jesus wanted us to give all our money away, why should we work so hard to get an education and a job?” I heard many similar remarks when I taught high school. It's all about the money. We seem to be comfortable with a world where some are trapped in a lifetime of servitude over a $200 debt, and others flip multimillion-dollar homes to sell to "house hobbyists" "looking for second and third homes." We may not say it out loud, but our actions state pretty clearly a belief that God loves rich people more.

There's no simple fix for poverty. Throwing money at it has not and will not work. We need to make an attitude adjustment. Jesus praises the widow for donating "her whole livelihood" not because poverty is good, but because sharing everything that we have is an imitation of the divine. The Truth is that God loves Shahbaz and Shahzad every bit as much as our own children. The only question is do we?

"Family is about loving one another, not using one another. Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent. Family is about supporting our siblings, not controlling them. Family is about hope, not fear. It is time for us to embrace our family."