Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Paradox of Poverty

We are all poor, and none of us are poor.  This is the paradox of poverty. We are all poor, because nothing that we have in life - not our talents, or our time, or our skills, or anything that we claim as our own actually belongs to us.  All of it, everything in our lives, comes from God and belongs to Him.  We are but stewards of the things which He has placed in our lives, put in charge for the purpose of serving the needs of others.  This is the first and most important thing we must remember about poverty.

God, being a fair and just master, has distributed to each of us gifts and talents.  To one, he has given wealth. To another, a talent for cooking.  To another, land and a gift for raising crops.  To a fourth, a combination of the first three so that should one of the other two fail, there will be someone who is able to fill in the gaps.  Every human being has received a gift or talent which other people need, therefore none of us are truly poor. We all have something to offer.  This is the second thing we must remember about poverty.

Wealth by itself will leave a man starving. He must have something to trade for it before it can do him any good at all.  A cook without food is unable to eat. Though there are some items which can be eaten without cooking, most foods are better when put together the right way and cooked.  This is how God's providence works: every human being has a talent or gift that is needed by other people.  Every human being, from the lowest beggar to the mightiest of kings, needs other people's talents for their own to be fully realized.  This is the third thing we must remember about poverty.

Jesus rightfully said the poor would always be among us. We are the poor, and our poverty is never ending. We are always in need of God's services, God's help, God's generosity.  We are beggars, seeking daily from Him the very essence of life. We have far more in common with the beggar on the street corner than most of us are comfortable with acknowledging.  We like to tell ourselves that what we earned everything we have - but we fail to remember that it if we were able to earn what we have, it is only because God provided us the means to do it.

God provided the healthy body, the mental capacity to learn, the parents who supported us, the teachers to guide our instruction, the opportunities which came our way, the money to finance the education and opportunities we received, the guidance we needed to be able to know what to do when the opportunities did come our way.  None of us, absolutely none of us, is a self-made individual.  All who are a success in life are successful because they have been helped by God first through the hands of the people around them.

Yes, man must cooperate with grace in order for it to be fully fruitful.  God presents the opportunities, but we must first seize them.. God presents the education, but we must take advantage of it.  God presents the healthy body, but we must get up and use it.  So, success in life is partly about cooperating with that grace and using our talents, but we cannot fail to acknowledge that success in life is largely an act of grace bestowed upon one who has done nothing to deserve it.

When we see the beggar on the street corner, we must not pass him by and ignore him.  We must find out what leads him to beg.  Does he not know that he has talents and gifts to use? Has he been so beaten down mentally, so often told that he is worthless, that he believes that lie instead of knowing the truth that he is valued and worthwhile? Does he lack gratitude so that he cannot see his talents and gifts as being worthwhile?  Does he simply lack the means by which to use his talents and gifts to their best advantage? The world needs those talents and gifts, and it is our job to help our brothers and sisters recognize and put to use the gifts and talents received from God.  This Lent, let us seek ways to take our own talents and gifts and use them for the benefit of others - especially those who seem to need it most.

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