In the time of plenty think of the time of hunger; in days of wealth think of poverty and need. — Sirach 18:25, NRSV
I think one of the hardest things to do in ministry is convincing successful people that they still need God. Because of our cultural emphasis on wealth, status, and accomplishments, there are many people who feel that they have “made it,” and because they are successful, their relationship with God must either be on-point or unnecessary. For too many of us, this is a form of forgetfulness and idolatry that makes daily discipleship (and the transformation that comes with it) impossible.
Now it’s important that you don’t misunderstand me. It’s not just the rich and powerful that fall prey to the lie of self-sufficiency. All of us, at one point or another, find a little slice of prosperity. When the time comes to share it, our forgetfulness is evident in our refusal to lend the helping hand that all of us have at one time needed. The man on the corner should just work like we work, and he wouldn’t have to beg. The mother on welfare should “flip burgers,” as anything is better than nothing (despite the fact that getting hired for fast food work still requires things many poor American citizens lack). Those with multiple jobs who still can’t make ends meet should have “aimed higher” and done more with themselves.
See the pattern?
We who forget that we owe our very lives to One greater than us tend to be so quick to pass harsh judgment against those we perceive to be less worthy. We are tight-fisted with our compassion, not to mention our resources! These attitudes may seem like impolite, private conversation, but to hold such opinions flies in the face of Christian discipleship. The faith of Christ is grounded in receiving the grace and gifts of God that we may share them with those around us, and there is no escaping that fact.
So what do we do? The word “repent” comes to mind. We must first recognize and take responsibility for those moments in which we failed to exhibit Christian charity, whether in thought, conversation, or action. This is something we must seek forgiveness for, and, rest assured, God will forgive our confessed transgressions. But what about the other half of repentance, wherein we change direction and go about life differently because of our dependence on God’s grace? This is where our text from Sirach comes into play.
Now, if you are staunchly Protestant and don’t like the idea of taking life advice from the Secondary Canon, check out Deuteronomy 8. Both of these texts deal with not forgetting. Deuteronomy asks that we not forget that God is the one that gives us the power to get what we get. Even if we are “successful” through what appear to be totally worldly means, it is God who gave us our very life by which we make our gains.
Sirach is concerned with our forgetting what it is like to be in need, to be hungry, to require the assistance of others. When we forget this, we lose our ability to fully see the needs of others. In turn, that inability keeps us from acting in the self-giving way Christ models for us.
When we put all of this together, we come away with some excellent Scriptural advice on how to proceed. We must remember that our success does not absolve us of our discipleship responsibilities. When we reach a place of comfort, we shouldn’t hoard our newfound gifts for ourselves “just in case.” Rather, we should be gracious and open-handed, trusting that God will continue to bless us that we may bless others. Even if we have nothing material to give, our attitudes and opinions should be shaped by the love Jesus shows us on the cross. This love is self-giving and all-encompassing. Just as the grace of God is offered to us in that moment, so we ought to honor that by offering grace to others in every moment.
This post isn’t meant to make you feel guilty or bad about having a comfortable life. Rather, it is an encouragement to both recognize and reflect the grace of God that is freely given to us all. If all that we have received is ultimately a gift, we are in no position to be miserly with it, nor should we boast as if it is all due to our own greatness.
Take a moment to imagine a world of reckless generosity and compassion. Imagine a world wherein we actually realized we all have so much more in common that we originally thought. In a world of such divisiveness and selfishness, I hope you find such a vision comforting and worth working toward.
So let’s all repent and get to it! Peace be with you!