What is wealth? What is poverty? Where do we land on that spectrum?
Let me share two experiences I had this week that are reshaping my understanding of these questions. The first was a half-day event called the “Mayor’s Faith Forum on Homelessness and Domestic Violence.” A number of key players from government, non-profit, and faith communities shared about the current state of affairs, best practices, and steps forward. There was a consensus from all present that homelessness–which is nearly synonymous with poverty–is not solely an issue of material lack. One person shared the words of a homeless friend: “The hardest part of homelessness is that people don’t look you in the eye.” Another shared the insightful words of Mother Teresa: “[People are] hungry not only for bread but hungry for love; naked not only for clothing but naked of human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a home of bricks but homeless because of rejection.” Elsewhere Mother Teresa said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
If this is a key component of poverty, then I experienced a meeting of millionaires on Wednesday night. Almost 25 of our church members gathered for a last-minute prayer meeting to cry out to God on behalf of our sister Charlene Somerhalder. It was a time when we looked each other in the eye. We knew ourselves to be loved, respected, and embraced. We told stories about our dear sister and shared the sorrowful reality that she is being taken from us. We prayed, we sang, and we stayed. Then we shared and prayed and stayed some more. It was the opposite of poverty; it was the most meaningful wealth imaginable–the wealth of sharing peace, hope, love, and belonging.
Where does this wealth come from? What is the source of these riches that transcend the square footage of our homes, the size of our bank accounts, and the quality of our cars? It is all from our great benefactor, Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This outpouring of wealth was the plan of our Father, who is “rich in mercy” and poured out “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 7). Our wealth is that of having hearts that are “knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2). Through our trust in Christ we have forgiveness of sin and the satisfaction of God’s wrath. Thus, by grace, we receive an unending flow of kindness, affection, and belonging.
After our time of prayer and sharing on Wednesday night someone said, “This church family is something special; I’m thankful to be part of it.” To that I say, “Amen.” Let us continue to acknowledge and express gratitude for such wealth. And let us share these riches with others. We live in a spiritually impoverished world as those who are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Because of Christ we can look neighbors, co-workers, and strangers in the eye and welcome them into this wealthy family.