It says in the Book of Wisdom, and is repeated throughout scripture, that those who have little may be pardoned out of mercy, but “for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.” That’s a discomforting thought, because I have a good job, healthcare, a decent house, a 3-year-old car, plenty of food, abundant water, air conditioning and heat. I have the advantages that accrue to an able-bodied, white, Christian, suburban American. Despite the abundant losses, transitions, and challenges of my life, I’ve got it pretty darn good! How much gratitude is due for the riches I have been given? How often do I fall on my knees in thanks?
Yet in light of the Gospels, I realize gratitude is not enough; it is only the first step. For instance, consider Jesus’ admonition to the rich young man to sell all he has and come follow. Ouch! Reading that and knowing how much I have, I feel convicted, uncomfortable, and guilty.
I don’t think Jesus wants us to feel guilty, though. I believe he wants us to feel responsible. Guilt paralyzes. Responsibility acts. Note that Jesus didn’t tell him to sell everything for the sake of selling it. He told him to sell it and give it to the poor, to serve others. Those of us who have much do not actually “own” it at all. We don’t “deserve” it nor have we “earned” it. It is not “ours” to use just for our own pleasure. We are called to be grateful that we have this tool, these abilities, this health, these advantages, so that we can use them to be instruments of God’s mercy to others. What we do with them determines how we will be judged. God’s scrutiny awaits.
Examples: I have abundant food. How much can I give to food pantries, shelters for abuse victims, a Catholic Worker House, or the homeless people within my own area? I have more clothes than I need. Can I give professional clothing to underemployed people interviewing for a job, and other clothing to places like St. Vincent DePaul or Goodwill? My garage holds things I haven’t used in years; could someone else use them? I have too many books; who else needs them?
Every room of my home contains things I don’t need and could give away. The only question is: Where do I start and when? How long am I going to put it off while others are in need? Scripture is clear. Jesus is calling. Will I walk away sad, or will I get busy and live out the faith that saves me?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.