DOWN TO A LEVEL PLACE
Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10
1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 20
Luke 6: 17 – 26
There are more people alive today than have died – ever. This is true, and by some number too. And if you have a concern for the poor you might be wondering how so many people (and a fair percentage of those would be poor) can be cared for.
Well, in an alternative interpretation of the Feeding of the Five Thousand lies a wonderful principle. Personally I think Jesus actually multiplied the loaves and fishes but another view is that everyone was hiding their lunch from everyone else, and when the little boy stepped forward with his loves and fish, everyone else felt ashamed and not only hauled out their lunch, but shared it too. It’s when we share that God intervenes and multiplies what we have shared. It’s an old principle.
Speaking of wealth and poverty, many years ago a fellow school pupil once said to me, “I can’t help being wealthy.”
My friend’s complaint was that he was born to privilege, that he was a talented young man and that his orientation, his talents and his inclination were towards business; and he had no intention of joining any of his father’s businesses either. He was going to do it on his own.
And he was a perfectly decent young man. What was he to do in the face of Jesus’ frequent references to wealth being a problem in the Kingdom of God?
Like many of the young men who became Christians when I did, he went on to a successful working life, and faithful and generous church membership.
But privilege can never be understood from a privileged position. People whose station in life disposes them towards success have little understanding that there is no such thing as a “level playing field.”
Jesus was born to a family that depended on carpentry for its living. One can only assume he was not ‘dirt poor’ as they say. And yet he had the ability to come down to the level of those he was speaking to (and they were largely the poor).
I can’t help noticing the words, He came down with them and stood on a level place.
There are two elements I’d like to pick up on here:
- He came down with them, and
- Stood on a level place
The difficulty we face as privileged Westerners with very little idea of the conditions under which millions of people live is that seldom are we prepared genuinely to come down and be with disadvantaged people.
We’re happy to make forays into the world of need but woe betide anyone who actually threatens our entrenched life of privilege by suggesting that we should remain there. In other words we are happy to do the “come down” bit but we are seldom happy to do the “with them” bit.
And that’s understandable! Even some of the privileged people I knew in my youth who became radical Marxists, ended up, not at the forefront of fighting for the rights of the poor, but in university departments in various parts of the world. It is a very difficult thing to remain standing with the poor.
And I don’t think Jesus expects us literally to follow the instructions he gave the rich young ruler (give all you possess to the poor). I think in the words, and stood on a level place we can find a pragmatic way forward.
There is no particular spiritual significance to those words in context. It is easier to stand somewhere level and that’s it. However, there is a useful message in them if we see them as a metaphor.
When I am standing on a level place I am more focussed on the task in hand and not so much on standing upright. I am more others-focussed and less concerned about my own balance. In other words, if my own needs are met, I can spend time on the needs of others.
If you’ve ever read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you’ll understand why this makes perfect sense, both from the perspective of those who are in a position to assist the poor and from the perspective of the poor needing to move beyond an overwhelming concern with basic needs so that they too can grow into productive members of society.
When we are on a level place, we can maintain perspective and move beyond our concern for self.
In conclusion: why am I speaking about this topic today?
Well, the Parish Review threw up a number of areas that we need to address. The overwhelming one is the need to learn to ‘gossip the gospel,’ to use a trendy term, but the other is to reach out into the community in other ways as well. The review suggested that support for the City Mission was a good way of doing so, and Trudy Warin is the Vestry member heading up a Working Group to address this.
We are not speaking about donations of food for the City Mission. We do that fairly well, I think, as many of you place non-perishable food items into the basket each Sunday. The City Mission has another critical project on the go and Trudy will be speaking to us one of these Sundays about how we can be involved.
Jesus has given us an example. He came down with them and stood on a level place.
It would be foolish of me to pretend that I could completely identify with the poor. I have no idea what they face, especially not psychologically. However, I can join Jesus, who “stood on a level place.”
That level place speaks of a readiness to assist. And because it is preceded by “coming down” it is a place where we are no longer concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, but are in effect saying, “I can’t pretend to understand exactly what you are going through, but I am here to help where I can.”
And that, I think, causes God to smile.