while offering ‘in principle’ support
for the concept of kingdom of God, find the idea that God might want to direct
the ways that money is used
or disposed of,
Riches are from God, they assert;
our prosperity is proof enough
that we are virtuous and good.
The Lord would not have so blessed us
if it were otherwise.
With wealth comes responsibility;
we understand that,
and we take our obligations seriously.
Assistance must be provided
for widows and orphans;
the scriptures are strong on that point.
But the poor, as a category,
includes a range of people:
wastrels, profligates, intemperates and such,
not all of them deserving of our largesse.
When it comes to generosity,
it’s best to err on caution’s side.
A charitable trust, perhaps;
with appropriate tax benefits.
in front of his home crowd, too.
The mood appears to have been generous;
A more modest, “begins to be fulfilled,”
might have been more judicious;
but then, unlike the majority of his followers,
Jesus was never particularly cautious.
In most centuries
he would have been locked up
as a troublemaker, or a communist.
In 21st century Australia,
his middle-eastern appearance,
along with his gang of similarly disreputable types,
would have generated
a substantial ASIO file by now.
Not to mention his wild talk
of freedom for the oppressed
and good news for the poor;
a call to revolution if ever we heard one.
And then, as if that isn’t enough,
he goes and brings God into it!
Who does he think he is?
The teacher couldn’t leave well enough alone.
The crowd were impressed;
His incendiary manifesto
slipped through, apparently unnoticed.
It’s what happens in every generation;
so many miss the disturbing implications
of such radical and loosely labelled “good news.”
For the poor, – only if the rich
can embrace the liberty of letting go;
for the oppressed, – only if the powerful
decide that they can do without their privileges;
for the captives, – only if the fearful choose
to risk their hearts, take on compassion,
and trust in the healing qualities
of grace and freedom.
And for the blind, – only if the unseeing ones
can be persuaded to open their eyes
to see for themselves
the gathering wonder and shining hope.
But no; he won’t allow them to stay
in the comfort of their unlistening.
Before they can begin to get
even the smallest corner
of their collective crania around it all,
he provokes his native crowd
with the “no acceptance
in the prophet’s hometown,” line.
Who does he think he is?
I am not poor. I have food enough
to satisfy any momentary hunger;
and clothes sufficient to cover my nakedness,
even, when occasion requires,
to allow me to look stylish.
I have a dwelling, mostly paid for,
modest by the standards of my community,
but providing generous
shelter, privacy and comfort.
I have ready access
to the energy resources of my planet
allowing me to travel, to be entertained,
and to keep me warm, or cool,
according to my needs.
I visit the doctor when I am ill,
and can purchase medicines
at an affordable price.
And with the money that I have left over
I have access to learning, information and art,
along with the time to indulge these things.
Good news for the poor, I imagine,
would see dignity preserved,
health care provided,
and the deliverance of a tolerable standard
of shelter, education and security.
Good news for the poor, I imagine,
would see those of us who are rich
being persuaded to share
recklessly and hopefully
of our abundance.
She was not frightened;
the woman that Jesus spoke of.
He had looked on from a distance
as she dropped her unobtrusive coins,
two in number, small and copper,
into the large temple money box.
Was he able to hear
the soft clunking sounds produced
as they joined the pile of larger coins
in the treasury’s insistent receptacle?
The rich are calculating in their philanthropy,
lest their abundance be significantly diminished.
What does the law expect from me,
and how do I balance it against my other demands;
quite apart from my needs for comfort
and security in my old age?
How will this contribution look to my peers
as they surreptitiously glance
at the number and colour of the coins
as I make my offering?
The rich live with anxiety; their wealth
seldom delivers contentment or peace.
Any generosity that might have fed their hearts
is pressed by fear
to the borders of their being.
The widow in our story was poor, without savings
or pension; the coins, according to Jesus,
were all that she had to live on.
He concludes his story by offering her as an example
in a way that he never did with the rich.
Affirming her freedom and generosity,
he celebrates her courageous choice
to trust in God.
For a long time now
the rich have liked the church.
Across the centuries
they have accommodated themselves
to its structures, institution and power;
(it’s been mutual),
permitting the church its sphere of authority
while determinedly maintaining their own.
Striving after respectability and influence,
not to mention their reserved seats in heaven,
the wealthy have been generous
with their patronage, constructing
buttress, edifice and spire.
(To be fair, the poor
have paid for their share of gold-leaf,
stained-glass oaken beams and dressed stone, too;
more often than not, subsidising the rich.)
The affluent have joined the church’s boards,
sat in on its councils,
propounded their advice,
shared their expertise,
sought and given favours
and requested ecclesiastical blessings
upon their many enterprises.
Some suggest that the wealthy and powerful
are seen too much in the company
of presbyter and priest.
The rich, it must be said,
find Jesus bewildering.
They hear stories:
about the teacher quietly suggesting
to a virtuous man of means,
that his life would be greatly enhanced
if he sold all his stuff and gave it to the poor.
On another occasion the carpenter
outrageously asserted that God and mammon
were incompatible masters;
and when he spoke of the unlikelihood
of camels squeezing themselves
through the eyes of needles,
the rich began to get the idea
that Jesus might not have been on their side.
Still, there’s always the church.