This weekend a friend of mine shared this depressing video on incoming inequality in the United States:
I responded half-jokingly that since it is Christmas I need to go read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) to make myself feel better. In that song Mary is presented as singing of the exaltation of the humble (v. 52b) and the filling of the hungry (v. 53a) as well as the scattering of the proud (v. 51b) and the rejection of the rich (v. 53b). For a citizen of the United States I’m not wealthy, but I’m comfortable. I have housing, food and drink, a nice car, some fancy technology, and the financial standing to continue my education beyond what most people have available to them. I’m not impoverished, at all. Many of my fellow citizens face far greater struggles.
To put things into perspective though, I have seen a chart that say about 48% of the world’s population lives on two or less US dollars a day. Also, I’ve read somewhere that if every human used the resources that the average US citizen uses we’d need thirty or so planet earths. While I’m sure that this statistic is inflated by our most wealthy it serves as a reminder that on the world scale, and in relation to most humans in our brief existence as a species, I’m quite wealthy. I know the solution is not as easy as overthrowing capitalism, or selling all my possessions in order to feel as if I am virtuous, but it is a troubling reminder that relative to many others I am not the one singing the Magnificat because I am hungry and poor, but instead, I might still be the proud and the rich who at the Great Judgment is reminded how much I had in this life.
As a side note I was told by my friend Greg Monette that the Gospel of Luke SBL Session on Monday, November 25th, (titled An Embarrassment of Riches? Wealth and Poverty in the Gospel of Luke) went from a scholarly discussion to a “spiritual experience” as the panelists became somewhat emotional while discussing the Lukan view of wealth (most notably Christopher M. Hays’ presentation). The audience wasn’t just asking questions about the past, but “what can we do now?” The Third Gospel contains a radical message where, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” challenges even the most scholarly and sophisticated of readers. For comfortable, privileged citizens of the United States like me there is a temptation to want more because the opportunity for social mobility presents itself, but this must be challenged by the reminder that there are so many with so much less and with little opportunity for change both in my own country and around the world. This troubling reminder makes reading the Magnificat a very different experience.