August 4, 2019
“No one can get into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” This is a quote from James Forbes, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City. And he’s right. You can’t read the Old Testament without hearing time and again how God demands of Israel that they feed the hungry and protect the most vulnerable members of society. You can’t follow the ministry of Jesus without seeing how he aims his message directly to the poor and the lowly. The witness of the scriptures is undeniable: Care for the poor, for those who are struggling to survive, is what matters to God.
This connects to today’s gospel, because in the gospel people are criticized when they store up riches for themselves and are not rich in what matters to God. What matters to God is care for the poor. It is in this light that we need to understand the rich man in today’s parable. What is this man’s fault? What is his sin? I would suggest to you that it was not that he was greedy or selfish. He was blind. He went about his life, earning his money, planning for the future, and never seeing the people around him who were struggling to just to live. This gospel does not see wealth as a bad thing. It does not dismiss the value of the rich man’s harvest. It does not criticize the rich man for building bigger barns to store it in. But it criticizes him because he does all of these things without seeing the need of the people around him. He does not see the poor, and the poor are what matter to God.
You and I have a difficult time seeing the poor. The poor are not particularly visible here in Bainbridge. We and the people around us live comfortable lives, largely free from material want. And there is nothing wrong with that. Our lives are a blessing from God. But our danger is the danger of the rich man in the gospel. We can go about celebrating and enjoying the blessings we have received and fail to see those around us struggling to survive.
And they are with us. We live in the richest country in the world, and yet 1/6 of American children live under the poverty line, which means they struggle to find adequate nourishment and education. In our world one billion people are forced to live on less than a dollar a day. And every day 10,000 people die because of diseases that could have been avoided if they had access to clean drinking water. These are startling statistics, but they are statistics we should see, because Jesus is betting that when we do see them it will move us to action. So, this week I would suggest that we spend a little time on the internet and search for “poverty” or “malnutrition” or “clean drinking water,” and allow the stark statistics we find to move our hearts. There are many opportunities right here in northern Ohio, many organizations that target feeding the hungry, resettling refugees, and helping those who do not have adequate access to health care. We should know those groups and select one to support.
The gospel calls us to see the need around us not to embarrass us or to make us feel guilty. The comfortable lives we live are blessings from God, and we should always be thankful for them. But we are called to see those who are in need because that is what matters to God. And this not a small thing, because no one gets into heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.