After a recent service, Judy Howell shared how she was inspired by Psalm 15, particularly the lines about those who share their “treasure” and not live off the poor. I told her how this theme fits closely to what I had been thinking and meditating on. This reflection stems from the sociology class I teach and the recent topic of “Global Stratification.” It refers to the layering of groups within a nation, with the poor at the lower strata.
Our text and discussion in class is about the enormous disparity of wealth within this country and most others, and how this social stratification affects our “life chances,” ranging from our material possessions to the age when we die. The wealthiest 1,000 people on the planet have more wealth than the poorest billion! Likewise, there are huge discrepancies in life span. Oddly, the USA is below the top ten among nations of average. This is primarily due to impoverished Americans not having adequate health care or housing, and so many dying before their time.
What does this mean for Christians aware and concerned with this overwhelming disparity? At Mission of the Atonement it begins with the amazing empathy and compassion shown among the community for those less fortunate within the walls of our church, and beyond. From their example, I believe we can act in ways both personal and collective. Our prayers ask God that S/He guide us individually and/or within group activism in response to the perennial injustice of poverty we see both far and near.
Moral theology and sociology writings ask how this happened. How did the world’s nations become and remain stratified? They trace a history of inhumanities that include slavery, the caste and class system in all parts of the world, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and of course the vagaries of multinationals, including banks expanding their treasuries. In our search for wisdom on how to act, we can turn to the teachings of Jesus - someone who had plenty to say about the way we value those less fortunate than ourselves.
From Mark 12-41 we learn:
“He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two copper coins worth a penny….Then he called to his disciples and said …”Truly I tell you, this widow put in more than all those contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything he had, all she had to live on.”