When the poor ones who have nothing are still giving;
When the thirsty pass the cup, water to share;
When the wounded offer others strength and healing;
We see God, here by our side, walking our way.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship – 725)
Today’s exercise: define what it means to be poor.
I know a woman who does not have much to live on. Actually, that is an understatement, but she would be offended if I said she was poor. Eleanor does not consider herself to be one of the poor ones. Sure, she has to decide which bill gets paid this month and which one can “slide.” She rarely has choice cuts of meat to prepare for her family at supper time. The family car is not necessarily in good running order, but in Eleanor’s words, “it beats walkin’ for sure.” Yet, according to Eleanor, she is by no means poor.
According to the U.S. government, Eleanor is poor. Her family relies on food stamps, reduced cost school lunches, and they live in government subsidized housing. I’m not really sure about her husband’s income, but I know she is out of work; has been for some time. To be honest, I’m pretty sure Eleanor is disabled; her back is a source of constant pain. She is too proud; however, to admit that she cannot function in the workplace, but even house work puts her down. Yeah, by government standards, Eleanor and her family are poor. But don’t tell her that. Eleanor considers herself to be rich.
In the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about the difficulties concerning earthly wealth. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” According to the text, camels stand a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle. The rich person in this story had a difficult time accepting the fact that his worldly wealth could not serve him in matters of salvation. It is better to sell everything, give the money to Eleanor, then follow Christ than to rely on one’s wealth for security. Our treasure is best stored in heaven, and we are better to consider the needs of others first, before we consider our own. For in heaven, the least will become greatest of all.
Eleanor believes this, and what’s better, she lives it. This humble woman is always the one who always helps the children cross the street as they head off to school. She volunteers her time visiting those who would otherwise be left alone, and she is sure to contribute more than what she can afford when it comes to collecting money or other goods for a family in need. Why does she do this? How is she able? Well, because it’s like she says, Eleanor is rich.
Living out the gospel message of Christ, to love God and her neighbor, Eleanor redefines what it means to be rich or poor; for me at least. No, she is not wealthy and she is grateful for any assistance she receives. She might enjoy an easier life filled with a few more conveniences, but then she would simply use those conveniences for the benefit of others. I believe as Eleanor does, that God has blessed her beyond measure, giving her a life of abundance where she can dwell in the love of God in Christ Jesus. Living according to such richness, she is happy to give of herself for the sake of the poor. Amen Eleanor.