During this Lent Season I have had an article by Krista N. Dalton come to mind several times. If you missed it from several weeks ago it is titled, “When the Lenten Fast is a Privilege”. I recommend reading the entire thing if you haven’t already, but the central point is this:
This lenten season, I remember that my ash marks my privilege as I ask forgiveness for the many ways I’ve failed my neighbor. I am mindful of the ways my life runs on habit, the many ways I can go through my day without recognizing the injustice around me. The lenten season calls us to remember our privilege, to recognize the ways our life runs on rhythm, unaware of the intersections of injustice. Today, I allow the ash to disrupt my rhythm, so that I might hear the rhythms of others.
She shares some important insights into how we often think of our service to the poor as a conduit to divine favor. There is no doubt that this is part of the Jewish and Christian traditions. (In fact, I heard a very interesting paper by Nathan Eubank titled “‘He Became Poor’: Paul’s Theology of Almsgiving” that discussed this at last week’s HBU Theology Conference. In essence, there are many authors who spoke of giving to the poor as “lending” to God with God stating that God will repay the loan.) But we must be careful to not let it turn into using the poor as some sort of low-risk stock in the bank of divine favor, as if the poor are merely our means toward personal betterment and divine favor while the poor remain poor. I think if we give to the poor to receive blessings, while consciously or subconsciously thinking that the poor ought to remain poor as their lot, then we’ve missed the point.
Our hope should be that the poor might not be poor. In an age of wealthy Christians this remains a convicting reality for me to ponder. I am wealthy not when compared to the wealthiest of my own society, but indeed when compared to many within my own society, within global society, and in comparison to the generations of humans who have come before me. At this point I am more talk than action as I too struggle with how to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism, but this Lent Season has continued to remind me that I must remain aware of the need to continually check myself against storing my own wealth in barns while forgetting my own temporality and the needs of my neighbor.