Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots
“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the LORD, the God of hosts): I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”—Amos 6:4-8
“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.”—2 Corinthians 8:1-4
In the lectionary today we have two readings that illustrate the stark contrast between the rich and the poor. The prophet Amos paints an image of the grotesque lifestyles of the extremely wealthy. In those days such consisted of lounging around on expensive furniture, eating the choicest of young livestock raised in structures on private property, making music with no purpose in mind, drinking fine wines from fine dishes, and anointing oneself as being important. It is remarkable how little changes from age to age!
The apostle Paul, then, describes the work of the desperately poor in Macedonia. Although they have been afflicted mightily, they give all that they have for the mission of radical social transformation begun by Jesus. Further, they do so with abundant joy! Paul lifts them up as the gold standard of what it means to truly be the Church. The Corinthians, with their relationships of power and oppression and their gap between the rich and the poor, have much to learn. I have much to learn. We have much to learn.
The massive inequality of resource distribution on the planet is no secret. We are all aware of it to varying degrees, though many at the top feign blissful ignorance. The physical ramifications of this inequality are clear. Poverty causes malnutrition. Poverty causes psychological underdevelopment for children. Poverty causes sustained trauma. Poverty causes bodily harm. Poverty causes death. The real kicker, though, is that the rich cause poverty. So, it is actual people and their systems that cause the devastation listed.
I cannot exclude myself from this category. In Zambia I am learning more and more about the inequality of resource distribution and my own complicity therein. I am especially learning about the things to which I implicitly feel entitled—private property, security, safety, money, technology, alone time, electricity, water, comfort, leisure, income, healthcare, savings—all which are the products of my wealth privilege. I find it laughable that we call welfare programs ‘entitlements’ when it is really the rich with the entitlement complexes.
I am also learning more and more about generosity. The prevailing mindset seems to be, “If I have something that somebody else needs more, it is unjust for me to hold onto it.” Sometimes this mindset comes grudgingly, but it is almost always there. I have written and talked extensively about the power of community and the strength of communal relationships here. So much of this is because resource sharing is a way of life rather than an entitlement-encroaching taboo.
The power of the two passages above is that they also point to the spiritual ramifications of the inequality of resource distribution. The grotesquely rich are portrayed as lazy, idle, causing devastation in the midst of inactivity. The LORD abhors their behavior and their property. The desperately poor, on the other hand, have abundant joy and a spirit of generosity. The rich are spiritually sick and cause physical sickness to others. The poor are physically sick but enrich the world with their spirit.
Now, this is not a post to glorify poverty. The devastation caused by poverty, some of which is described above, is real and is absolutely contrary to the will of God. Rather, it is a post to make clear God’s position as portrayed in Scripture. God practices a preferential option for the poor. God abhors inequality of resource distribution. God provides Creation with abundance. God abhors behavior that makes that abundance scarce for others. God calls and expects the children of God to create communities of shared abundance. God abhors physical and social segregation of people that allows for feigned ignorance. God wants the action of God’s children to be one of social revolution and transformation. God abhors the BUSINESS of charity.
This Advent let us remember that when Jesus told the rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor, he did not tell him to put conditions on his gifts and to make sure that the recipients conformed to his standards of societal existence and behavior. It was, plainly and simply, an act of resource redistribution, of shared abundance. Let us remember the Macedonian church. Let us also remember the abhorrence of those who lie on beds of ivory, lounge on their couches, eat the choicest animals raised on private property, drink the finest wines from the finest dishes, and declare themselves important. For, we wait in remembrance of a savior who chose the former and stood against the latter.