Poverty & Plenty: Challenges to Christian Stewardship
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. (11b)
The late Bishop D. J. Ambalavanar of the C. S. I. Jaffna Diocese was among the thousands of people who had to flee Jaffna overnight during the carnage in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. Carrying, like others, a mere shoulder bag as his possession, the bishop said to a fellow refugee: “How much we acquire; and how little we require!” St. Paul too, in today’s passage, acknowledges the reality that in life there will be times of poverty and plenty. In all situations, he affirmed: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (v. 11b). His contentment comes from the assurance that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13).
Paul’s contentment in every situation was not based on any vague theological formulations. Elsewhere he says: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8: 9). The references in the Bible to poverty are seldom to “spiritual poverty”, as we are often wont to believe. In fact, the gospels give ample proof that for Jesus, material wealth was a hindrance to following God. In his book, The Sin of Being Rich in a Poor Society, the late Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathios of the Indian Orthodox Church argued that Christianity has a basic ethic that is opposed to the accumulation of wealth. Affirming the principle of Christian stewardship, he stated: “All people are God’s children and the world is God’s domain and is not to be divided up by greedy people”.
Perhaps in no other context is the message of Christian stewardship as relevant today as in North America and Western Europe. It is not merely that there is a great divide between the affluent West and the rest of the world, with regard to wealth and other resources; it is also that internally, in countries like the United States, there is growing inequality where more and more citizens are being pushed below the poverty line. We have forgotten the Gandhian dictum: “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.”
The wealthy churches of the West often understand Christian stewardship as occasional acts of philanthropy. They are unwilling to change their ways of abundant spending, lavish lifestyle and the burning up of the finite resources of the earth. They, however, pacify their conscience with occasional acts of charity. This is not Christian stewardship. We are called to be followers of the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7).
Prayer: “Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness” (James K. Manley).
Thought for the Day: Is our lifestyle the greatest hindrance to our Christian stewardship?
Dr. Jesudas M. Athyal, Carmel Mar Thoma Church, Boston