God bless the rich, the well-to-do, the in-group, the wealthy. They need it. Have you heard of any school fundraisers to help the rich, or parish outreach programs to assist the wealthy? Name for me the saint who got canonized for ministering to the affluent, or the spiritual leader known for their work with the famous.
It seems to me as if Jesus was the last one to take seriously the plight of the rich. He seems to have appreciated just how dire their circumstances really were. Despite the PR hit, he consistently ministered to the wealthy, dining with them, teaching them, befriending them.
God bless the rich.
There is a story told about the Buddha in which a man approaches the Buddha and his disciples. The man is distraught and he says to the Buddha, “I have lost all my cattle and all of my crop; what will I do now?” The man heads off in search of his lost cows, and the Buddha turns to his students and remarks, “how lucky are you that you have no cattle or crops to lose.”
How lucky are those with nothing to lose.
I work in Boston now. I take the train to South Station, and then I walk to the John Adams Courthouse near Government Center. For the first time in my life, I see the homeless every day, and it has really affected me.
The other day, I saw a man in a wheel chair. The chair was strewn with what I assume are all of the man’s possessions. He could move his legs, and he pulled himself slowly forward along the sidewalk. It was raining and cold, and the man only had one sock on with no shoes. I couldn’t stop looking at the man’s exposed foot as it clawed along the asphalt, propelling the man to a place I know not where. I thought of going into a store and trying to buy a pair of socks, but would I be able to find the man again afterwards? And I was already so late to work. . . .
Another day, I saw a man using a hat to sweep away a dry area of concrete underneath the overhang of a tall skyscraper. It took me a moment to realize that he was getting ready to sleep their for the night, and I felt a pang of sadness.
Outside the Government Center T-stop, many people congregate everyday. I’ve thought about buying a dozen donuts and going to hand them out, but I never have.
I want to go to these people. I want to go to them and say something. I want to help them, but I don’t know how. And I am afraid. When I see them, I am wearing my nicest suits. I have a fancy leather bag filled with a new iPad Pro, a work laptop, a new iPhone and Apple AirPods. When I feel the urge to go speak to someone who is so obviously in need of help, I think to myself: what if they react aggressively, what if they rip my fancy suit or steal my nice stuff, what if they hurt me or get me sick?
I once knew a man whose father-in-law welcomed a homeless person into his home. This father let the homeless man stay with him for awhile. Sadly, the homeless man ended up killing the father. I think of this story when I want to bring a homeless person to my house and cook for them. I am afraid because I have so much to lose.
So much to lose. . . . So much.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation for a moment. Imagine that I were to take the train into Boston someday, not to work as a lawyer but just as a man. Picture it. I am wearing sweats, I have a small cloth satchel with some water and a snack, and I have a cheap paper notebook for scribbling down ideas. Imagine if I saw that man in the wheelchair now. This time, couldn’t I approach the man and ask him to wait for me to return? Couldn’t I run along to a nearby store and buy a pair of thick wool socks? Couldn’t I go back to the man and help him put them on?
Maybe this man would appreciate my actions, but what if he doesn’t? What if he screams at me and rips my clothes? What if he snatches my satchel from my shoulder and throws my notebook into a puddle? Imagine if he tried to punch me and hurt me. What would happen? Well, he’d probably rip my garment and ruin my notebook; I’d have a bruise or two, but he couldn’t really hurt me; I’d have no where else to be and nothing else to do. What could he take from me? I have nothing to risk. In this scenario, I am free. I have no cattle and no crops to lose.
The rich do not know of this freedom. They think that money can protect them, but it cannot. You can’t buy a cure to cancer; a fancy promotion won’t bring back a loved one; the nicest suit isn’t the right dress code for heaven, and the newest iPhone doesn’t have Jesus on speed dial.
Connections, compassion, empathy, other-orientation, these things are free. In fact, the best things in life are free.
The plight of the rich is getting worse. In Jesus’s time, very few were rich and many were poor, but today, many people live above the poverty line in this country. The wealthy are lost in an illusion, a societal malaise, trapped under a spell from which they need to be rescued. Jesus understands. Jesus penetrates this illusion, helping the wealthy to see that their riches mean nothing in the eyes of God. He goes to the tax collectors and his very presence inspires them to change.
The rich need to be saved from themselves. Their possessions are suffocating them, and so afraid of losing their stuff, they never go encounter Jesus in the heart of the poor. I am the rich, and I am working hard to become more rich. I need to be saved. I need someone to rescue me from the illusion that money and property and prestige will satisfy and comfort me.
Are you like me? Do you need Jesus to save you from your stuff?
How many nights do I throw leftovers into the garbage because I never got around to eating them while the poor go hungry? How much empty space is there in my house when the poor sleep outside in the cold? The more you have, the more you have to lose. The more you have, the more you have to share, but do we? And if we don’t, what happens to our souls? Are we on the path to salvation? If not, I sure feel like we need Jesus to save us.
Remember that Jesus had nothing. He was like a bird. He fluttered from town to town, he ate what people gave him, and drank from the public wells; he slept wherever he could. Jesus had nothing to lose, only his life, and in the end, even that was taken from him. But fear of loss never stopped Jesus from ministering to others, so why should it stop us?
Remember, the more we have, the more we have to lose, the more we have, the more we have to share.
God bless the rich, for the rich need to uncover the strength within their souls to resist their socialization to climb ever-higher and collect endless earthly treasures. We all have the power to make choices. A lawyer can become a monk, a business person can become a deacon, a teenager can become a friend to someone in need, and anyone can donate their most precious possession—their time. We all can make changes to prioritize other people. We can all find ways to give of ourselves, to minister to the hungry, the injured, and the oppressed. . . . Or at least, we can try.
Yesterday, with this reflection on my mind, I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk. He had wrapped himself in newspapers and tarps. I had three minutes to cross the street and get inside the station before my train left, but I remembered I had an unopened snack in my bag. I doubled back and offered the food to the man. It wasn’t much, and I am not looking for praise for this menial gesture. Actually, the man ended up saying no thank you. This decision had very little to do with the man in the tarp; it had everything to do with me.
We can’t control everything, we can’t control how people respond to our actions, but we can decide to try, and I think that just may be what Jesus cares about most of all: the trying, the caring, the loving of someone other than ourselves.
God bless the rich. May we try to break free from our earthly tether, may we try to have less cattle and less crops, and may we not let fear of loss stop us from loving everyone always, just like Jesus did.