Listening to His followers shout today, one cannot help but be marveled at the wonderful messages they preach… “Poverty is not your portion in Jesus’ name.” “In the name of Jesus, Prosperity is mine” “Our God is not a poor God” “You are not meant to be a Lazarus”. Are these not good messages? Of course, they are good messages and prayers since no right thinking person will pray for anything less. “Poverty is a disease”, some say. No person will voluntarily do anything to contact a disease. Rather we all pray against them. But then, let us hear Christ speak “In his riches man lacks wisdom” Ps. 49. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Lk. 4:18 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matt. 5:3 “But alas for you who have wealth, for you have been comforted now” Lk. 6:24 “…The Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” Lk. 9:58 “Seek first the kingdom of God and all other things shall be added on to you.” “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” Matt. 16:26 “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” Mk. 10:25 “The poor shall always be with you” Mk. 14:7
Does it then mean that the position Christ holds and that which we, his followers hold, contradict themselves? How come Christ presents poverty as a laudable thing to strive after and yet today we call it a disease to be dreaded? Surely there must be a mishap somewhere. God surely did not mean that we should be stricken by the disease of poverty or any other disease for that matter. He says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope.” Jr. 29:11. Since this is the case, why then did Christ say that the poor shall always be with us when he had in another place said whatever we ask we shall receive? Surely no one in the world today is praying for poverty. Even those who vow to live a life of ‘poverty’, say it is “poverty in the spirit.” Yes! This could explain it. But then let us see…
The Existential Reality
When Heraclitus held the view that strife is justice, he was not far from the truth. He was right to have blamed Homer for praying that there should be no strife in the world. To Heraclitus, this is tantamount to praying that the world should pass away. But come to think of it; can there be a world without strive? Let’s imagine a world where everybody is on the same pedestal-socially, economically, politically. Imagine every body being rich. Who will serve another? Who will be the Okada Man? Who will be the mechanic, given that everybody will be car owners? Who will be the garbage man? Who will be the cleaner? In short who will like to be another’s servant
when he can also pay for services? Of course you do agree with me that the world is structured such that some men will always be on a higher stratum than others. This is justice. As Plato had held, justice is when each person does that job for which he is best suited, since naturally, some are meant to be rulers, others to be guardians and others to be artisans and craftsmen. Willy-nilly, our society is one of classism. It’s a reality we must live with. George Orwell captures this better in his novel Animal Farm. Try as much as they could, the animals realized that it was impossible to have a society where they were all equal. This led them to conclude that while “All animals are equal, some are more equal than others.” Hence, while all men are created equal, (We hold these truths as self-evident, that all men are created equal) some necessarily have to be more equal than others for the smooth functioning of the society.
In the light of this, one begins to understand how chimerical the idea of eradicating poverty is. Also one grasps how utopic the notion of a classless society can be. What then happens to all the prayers offered against poverty and material backwardness? May be, Christ’s statement “You do not know what you are praying for,” Matt:20:22 and a look at James 4:3, “You pray for something and you do not get it because you pray with the wrong motive of indulging your pleasures” can put us in a good stead to make us understand better. But then, what is poverty?
The Real Issue about Poverty
In every day parlance, poverty is said to be the state of being poor; a state of lacking the basic necessities of life, which naturally means the lack of money. A person who is truly poor then is one who lives in a state of abject poverty. Contrary to what most of us think today, poverty is not the opposite of wealth, but the opposite of riches. Therefore, it is erroneous to conclude that when a man is not materially wealthy, he is poor. Our problems clearly arise from our insatiable quest for material possessions. People build huge ‘prisons’ with high walls and many iron gates, watch dogs, butler, security men, and call these houses, all in the name of being wealthy. People feel that it is when one has more than ten cars that one can say one has made it. But even those who get all these still crave for more. After all, human desires are like the world of the death, where there is always room for more. When then can a man be said to be truly saturated with material possessions? Surely, not the man who has so much, but the man who is content with what he has.
The Aristotelian-Thomistic-Kantian philosophy of the kingdom of ends surely can help us understand what true riches are. Aristotle, St. Aquinas and later Kant had all held the view that everything tends towards an end. While the Aristotle said the end to which all men tend is eudaimonia (happiness) Aquinas extrapolates it a little to say it is the Beatific Vision. It is Kant who captures all in the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, which states that the ‘subjective content is such that it treats the humanity in oneself or others solely as a vehicle towards one’s ends’. The ultimate end of all human endeavors is therefore, happiness in this life and the beatific vision in the life to come. In reality therefore, and in line with Christ’s message, a poor person is one who is unable to get these two. If we are sincere with ourselves, we will agree that in our society today, the happiest persons are those who possess little material possessions and are content with what they have. They are not afraid of armed bandits, they are not afraid of economic downturns and recessions, they are not afraid of falling share prices, they are not afraid of sinking ships, they are not afraid of being over-taken in any power tussle, in short they realise and agree with Democritus that “If only a few goods are desired, these will seem many because a restrained demand makes poverty equivalent to wealth.” Hence, they do not continue striving after the illusion called wealth. Men consider themselves materially poor, only when they begin to crave for much more than they need.
By now you must be wondering whether I am insinuating that people stop working hard to make life more comfortable. No! Far be it that I advocate such a position. All I am saying is that men should get their priorities right since the greatest complications of life arise from misplaced priorities.
What We Should Do
We cannot forget about most preachers, who today feel that the best solution to the problem of poverty is to mentally rise above it. All the preaching and prayers against poverty are never going to solve the problem. Why? Because it is the senses they appeal to and nothing more. The eloquent voice of the preachers, the harmony of praise chants, the pomp of church ceremonies, and the immensity of the congregation are what strike the people. As soon as all these end, the senses, meeting only the object of human passions and the stark reality of life, return to the quest for those things that they had been made to think were in their grasp. Rather, let preachers exalt hard work and make people realise that their ultimate goal in life is happiness, which can be achieved with the barest of material possessions. If Christ spoke so hard against riches, it was never because they were bad in themselves but because detachment is more difficult for the wealthy. Their situation is made worse today by the fact that many preachers navigate their sermons today to suit them (the rich). In this case, most of them hardly ever hear the real truth about themselves. Little wonder we see many churches today with mighty structures but occupied by people with little or no faith. Clergymen are judged today, not by how many they converted while in a parish but by how many buildings and other projects they accomplished. What a pity?
As a final word, I say to preachers: build the faith of people and you will not be afraid to preach objectively, since a faithful man will carry out his obligations to God no matter what the situation or what you say to him. In fact, many people do more when they realise you are not interested in how much they can do. Let people again begin to re-live the story of the widow who gave the highest, not because she gave much but because she gave all. Stop making people feel that the Kingdom of God can be bought with money. To my brethren I say: let’s be content with what we have and try to be as comfortable as we can be in the state in which we find ourselves in life. While we must be ambitious, this should not be devoid of reason.