Church Action on Poverty, a Body in Association of CTBI, has recently asked ‘What does a church of the poor look like? ‘. The phrase originates from Pope Francis, who on his election as Pope said he wanted ‘a poor Church, for the poor’. This phrase has influenced the work of Church Action on Poverty through its ‘Church of the poor’ programme launched in summer 2016. In this Weekly Focus, based around our 2014 Lent course, Parables and possessions, we encourage you to consider how being poor in Britain and Ireland in the 21st century invites more ridicule than sympathy.
'Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.' Luke 12:15 Click To Tweet
The Parable of the Rich Fool
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Do Not Worry
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:13-34 (NRSV)
This parable emphasises some of the problems faced by those who are wealthy. The man in the story thinks of himself, and the things of this world. But he forgets God and all those round him who would no doubt have been in need, and who would have greatly benefited if he had only been willing to share his prosperity.
In our society it isn’t the rich who are ridiculed, but the poor. Imagine the opposite of the Rich Fool in our time. Perhaps a thrifty parent who goes without to make sure their children had school uniforms and could celebrate Christmas? And yet our culture does not honour these parents; they are instead blamed for
causing the deficit by the high level of welfare dependency. They should just get a job, and save for the future…
For many people, the pursuit of possessions is everything. Swimming against the tide of consumerism may invite rejection and ridicule.
How, then, do we ensure that our relationship with our possessions is not only a satisfactory one, but is an optimal, perfect, one? How do we remain part of the world, but not hold tightly to money and certainly not be driven by it? Being aware of wealth’s transient and ultimately unsatisfying nature is perhaps a good place to start. An awareness of the potential damage which possessions can do to our relationships with others and with God is also helpful.
But to be so counter-cultural is to invite scorn and ridicule; in Jesus’ time as well as today saying something which flies in the face of the prevailing cultural norms will no doubt attract rebuke from those who control the levers of power.
The Churches’ commitment to being in solidarity with the powerless, the marginalised and the vulnerable is a core part of our faith. And yet when Churches and Christians question affluence or challenge assumptions about economics or politics, they are often derided.
- How much responsibility do we have as individuals and as members of an institution to find out, to challenge and question, and to call for and act for change?
- In your daily life where do you witness a ‘war on the poor’ either as a victim or as an unwitting perpetrator?