A strange gospel for the poor?

Jeremy Cain, Community Participation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, looks forward to the World Day of the Poor.

English breakfast
“The first will be last…”

 

Staying in a retreat centre over the weekend, my friend and I found ourselves first in the queue for breakfast. “The first will be last,” my friend said, quoting Matthew 20:16, though, of course, it didn’t stop us tucking in!

 

For CAFOD supporters these are comforting words, with the assurance that God will one day fix the unjust world that we live in. However, five chapters later, Jesus seems to contradict himself, at least on the face of it. Once again it’s a parable about money (Jesus had quite a few of those), but this time he’s not talking about small denarii, but great big bags of gold! Yes, it’s the Parable of the Talents which, finishes with the rather worrying words, “for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Bag of gold

“For all those who have, more will be given…”

It might seem an unfortunate gospel to fall on the upcoming World Day of the Poor, inaugurated by Pope Francis this year on Sunday 19th November. But, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about money and if I’d have been there listening to the parable, the question I hope I would have asked is: “All those who have what, teacher?”

We live in a world where we measure success by our wealth and, as I read about the Paradise Papers in the news, it certainly seems that more is being given to those who really have quite a lot already. Yet we all know that money isn’t everything; given the choice between a healthy bank account or loving relationships, I think most people would go for the latter. So the answer I suspect Jesus would have given would have been love, or maybe faith, or maybe joy; but definitely not money.

Prayers-in-Kenya-CAFOD

Kenyans at prayer

At CAFOD we work with the poor on a daily basis and know from experience that they often possess love, faith and joy in abundance. This doesn’t make their poverty OK- far from it-  but it does suggest that our world of material wealth can somehow insulate us from what really matters: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” So how can we break through this insulating barrier? How can we fill our lives with love, faith and joy? Or, as the astonished disciples put it, “then who can be saved?” The answer Jesus gives is simple, yet deeply challenging to our postmodern self-sufficiency: “for God, all things are possible.”

With nowhere else to go, let us pray for the Lord’s mercy.

 

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